Am I affected?
Both Spectre and Meltdown were discovered last year, but was only recently disclosed to the public. Both vulnerabilities exploit a processing technique, known as speculative execution, that went mainstream in processors around 15-20 years ago, so basically every CPU made in the last 20 years is vulnerable.
What might happen?
These vulnerabilities allow attackers to view information stored on the processor itself. Normally this is not allowed due to security on the Operating System and the hardware itself to keep secret things secret. These vulnerabilities bypass this to allow seeing things such as passwords and encryption keys, or in the case of cloud environments, potentially data on someone else’s server if they share resources.
Which Operating Systems are affected?
Because these are hardware vulnerabilities, the overlying operating system doesn’t matter. Windows, IOS, Android, and Linux are all affected. There are some patches being released that help plug the holes that can be exploited, but the true fix will need to come by re-designing the CPU from the ground up.
Are Spectre and Meltdown different?
Meltdown is a vulnerability that breaks down the security walls between an application and the operating system. This primarily affects Intel and Apple CPUs. AMD CPUs are not affects. This vulnerability is the easier of the two to fix and there are patches released or in the works to fix it. The downside to the fix is that it will slow the performance of the CPU. So far, the degradation of performance has not been noticed in normal office use.
Spectre is a vulnerability that breaks down the security walls between the applications themselves. This affects all CPUs made in the last 20 years, including AMD. The positive side is that is it VERY hard to exploit.
What should I do?
The best protection is to make sure you don’t turn off or ignore updates. Microsoft has rolled out updates to Windows 10 on 1/3/18. Windows 7 and Windows 8 will have patches released on “Patch Tuesday” on 1/9/18. Apple has released patches for iOS 11.2, macOS 10.13.2, and tvOS 11.2.
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