How to protect yourself from the Spectre and Meltdown chip flaws

How to protect yourself from the Spectre and Meltdown chip flaws

As for Spectre, which is harder to exploit than Meltdown but also harder to mitigate (there is still no fix for it), it affects all modern Intel, AMD and ARM processors.

'The very real fear is that attackers could exploit the flaw on vulnerable systems to gain access to parts of the computer's memory, which may be storing sensitive information. If the names selected for the two microprocessor vulnerabilities announced this week-Spectre and Meltdown-haven't brought fear to hearts of the computer-using public, it can only be because they were overshadowed by weather forecasters' breaking out the label "bomb cyclone" for this week's East Coast snowstorm.

The severity of the bug is not limited to its scope. The flaw is in how memory isolation works on Intel CPUs, despite the use of mechanisms such as Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), which is widely used in all modern operating systems.

"Meltdown breaks the mechanism that keeps applications from accessing arbitrary system memory, consequently, applications can access system memory", the Meltdown attack advisory states. There are already Meltdown patches for Microsoft's Windows, Apple's macOS and Linux. Microsoft declined to comment and Apple did not immediately return requests for comment.

Again, this is good practice against any type of hacker attack.

Google said in its blog post about the exploit that the issue has been mitigated in many products or wasn't a vulnerability in the first place. Tech companies have been rushing out software fixes to deal with Meltdown, and while Spectre is harder to eliminate, some patches have been issued that reduce the risk it poses.

Researchers at Google's Project Zero and academic institutions including the Graz University of Technology in Austria discovered the problem a year ago and disclosed it Wednesday.

Horn "demonstrated that malicious actors could take advantage of speculative execution to read system memory that should have been inaccessible", Google said. Google's infrastructure, including YouTube, Maps and Search, was impacted by the vulnerability, but no consumer action is needed, according to a company announcement. But the fact that there's a fix at all is largely due to security researchers at the Graz University of Technology, in Austria, who were unaware of the vulnerability until last month.

How big is the problem?

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IDC estimated that there are 1.5bn PCs in use around the world today, out of which 90pc are powered by Intel processors.

Since a whole range of products from mobile phones to personal computers all use such processors, the potential spread of an attack could be vast. It said that it had already protected almost all instances of AWS and that customers must update their own software running atop the service as well.

"Intel is committed to product and customer security and is working closely with many other technology companies, including AMD, ARM Holdings and several operating system vendors, to develop an industry-wide approach to resolve this issue promptly and constructively", the firm said in a statement.

Amazon Web Services, a cloud computing service used by businesses, said that most of its internet servers were already patched and the rest were in the process of being patched. We invite you to install this emergency update as soon as possible, though Microsoft explained yesterday that some versions of anti-virus software may block the installation of the patch.

Google said that all products have been updated but that a new security update, dated 5 January, will be released.

Google is also working to provide new protections in its Chrome browser to help protect against Meltdown and Spectre.

The researchers said Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp had patches ready for users for desktop computers affected by Meltdown.

The flaws, which researchers have code-named Meltdown and Spectre, relate to how a CPU handles tasks that it thinks your PC will need to perform in the future, known as speculative execution.

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