As reaction to a new bug that crashes Intel (INTC) Pentium processors spreads across the Internet, the prevailing opinion is that the problem could be serious, though some believe that it simply points to more generic problems with computers.
The Pentium "F0" bug can freeze up Pentium MMX and "classic" Pentium (non-MMX) computers, machines that number in the hundreds of millions worldwide.
Intel confirmed the bug this afternoon saying that it is now looking into a work-around. An Intel spokesperson said it would know more about the work-around "within a week."
The bug has the potential to crash Pentium computers, according to Robert Collins, whose Intel Secrets Web site tracks inside information on Intel, the world's leading chipmaker.
Intel has confirmed this characterization of the bug.
A number of postings claim that the bug is especially pernicious because it might trigger a rash of attacks on computers, based on the potential to bring down practically any computer on which people can execute programs.
"I think...this scares people [since it allows] for a whole new set of denial-of-service attacks which can bring down any machine on which you let people execute programs. It's trivially simple to do, and I might imagine quite hard to figure out who did it in a multiuser environment," said Miguel Cruz.
But others are more reserved. "Ordinary users are not at any more risk [from the bug] than they were before of getting a program that, for instance, maliciously formats their hard drive," said John Alderson. But he adds: "Yes, this is a potentially serious problem for those who run multiuser systems that must remain reliable."
Postings on newsgroups can differ dramatically in opinion and do not necessarily represent professional opinions. However, a consensus can indicate that a problem is potentially serious in a case such as this.
The bug was first reported by CNET's NEWS.COM Friday afternoon. Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.
Intel says it heard about the bug for the first time Friday, but at least two people posting messages on an Intel newsgroup claim that the chipmaker knew about the bug before. Intel engineers were meeting on Friday about the bug, according to sources.
While some people posting messages believe that it is irresponsible to make the bug public because such disclosure is tantamount to disseminating diabolical data that can be used maliciously, others say it must be done.
Eventually, someone "would have found out. And then people would have wondered why PCs were going down like mad. Better to learn now than later," one posting read.
The bug apparently is a single illegal instruction and not something that would be deliberately coded into a software program, according to Collins. Therefore, it will not be found in commercial software or independently developed software.
Nevertheless, this instruction could be maliciously inserted into a small C language program and used to bring down a company's server computers, according to Collins.