Spectre and Meltdown; what they mean for your PC

The meaning of Spectre and Meltdown

Spectre and Meltdown are names given to the variations of security flaws that have been found to occur on almost all processor chips manufactured within the last 20 years.

Chips affected are those manufactured by Intel, AMD, and ARM.

All devices running Windows OS are potentially vulnerable (e.g., desktops, laptops, cloud servers, and smartphones) as well as devices running other operating systems such as Android, Chrome, iOS, and MacOS.

In total, there are three variations of these security flaws, each is assigned its own CVE number; two of these variants are grouped together as Spectre and the third is dubbed Meltdown.

The vulnerabilities transpired with advancements in the processing speed of the chips. Consequently, speculative execution and caching, two vital techniques involved in processor speed were maliciously affected.

The flaw creates a vulnerability by rendering access to information previously thought to be secure.

While there have been no recorded security breaches to date, experts warn that the flaws which affect fundamental security features can have serious repercussions.

What is speculative execution?

What is caching?

The biggest issue with these flaws is that they defy the assumptions of underlying security processes built into all computer programming code.

While there are patches currently available to solve the issues pertaining to Meltdown, Spectre is a slightly different kettle of fish with the hardware being the main source of issue.

All major tech firms such as Intel, Microsoft, Apple, and Google have already released patches/fixes for the problem.

In Intel’s case their first attempts at patching the issues were unsuccessful and contained many bugs.

As of today, Intel has reported to have fixes for 90% of the processors manufactured in the last 5 years.

The fixes on a basic computing level cause little impact to the user, however, for servers and larger processing requirements,  a significant decrease in performance and slower processing rates has been noted. (Read here)

Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich admitted to still having a lot of work to do to resolve the issues related to spectre and meltdown, and he hopes to have a more permanent solution to the problem for later this year

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If you are concerned about security risks to you or your business contact our expert consultants for advice.

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