Research

Meltdown, Spectre Chip Flaws: Who's Affected

Meltdown, Spectre Chip Flaws: Who's Affected

Spectre and Meltdown were discovered by a group of independent, academic, and industry researchers, including a team at the Graz Technical University in Austria, researcher Paul Kocher, and Google's Project Zero security team.

The security gap allows access to a computer's memory, which could reveal confidential information and security data.

Technology commentator Bill Bennett said the problem was worrying for New Zealanders, who were keen users of cloud-based software which was particularly at risk from cyber attacks because of the design flaw.

Shipley said that unlike software vulnerabilities, the physical flaws will continue to be a problem for years to come.

While these are some of the most critical exploits the computing world has seen, their existence has made it clear that, in extreme cases like this, technology companies have to work together.

In theory, Spectre and Meltdown could enable a user to "access kernel level memory access, exposing critical information that would be stored there, like system passwords", said Chris Morales, head of security analytics at Vectra.

While researchers say the Meltdown bug is limited to Intel processors, they have verified Spectre as a problem for Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and ARM processors. Pundits have said that computer performance could take as much as a 30% hit because of the way the security patch would have to change how processors function.

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Apple said all iPhones, iPads and Macs were susceptible, as they all contained the commonly used microchips that feature the security flaws.

In a statement, Intel said it was working with ARM and AMD to address the flaw. They also have the potential to affect data centres and devices that connect to the cloud.

Unauthorised access will be hard to detect so cloud-computing providers need to act quickly to protect against these vulnerabilities, said Ryan Kalember, senior vice president of cybersecurity at Proofpoint.

According to a Financial Times article, security experts believe the patches won't go far enough to protect business computers and have said completely replacing computer system hardware will be the only way to ensure protection.

Consumers can mitigate the underlying vulnerability by making sure they patch up their operating systems with the latest software upgrades. Browser makers Google, Microsoft Corp and Mozilla Corp's Firefox confirmed to Reuters on Thursday that the patches they now have in place do not protect iOS users.

Android devices running the latest security update, including Google's Nexus and Pixel smartphones, are already protected. Microsoft, Google, Apple and the Linux community have also released patches to protect against Meltdown.


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