What you need to know: Meltdown and Spectre CPU chip flaws

Intel, AMD and ARM, as well as the leading Operating System providers have all been making the news these last few days for all the wrong reasons.  It’s come to light that a design flaw in the Intel CPU design allows the potential for malicious attackers to steal passwords and other data which is exposed.

The Problem

So, there are some flashy logos to go with the vulnerabilities, but what is the problem?  The problem is down to a design flaw in the way that the CPU manufactures have designed their chips.  Depending upon the circumstances, the CPU can obtain access to data from the device’s memory, something which shouldn’t be possible.  This opens the door to two vulnerabilities, Meltdown and Spectre, which can allow a malicious attacker to gain access to your personal data using malware installed on your device.

It is thought that this problem has been known about for several months, if not years, however it has just come to light.  However, this problem cannot be fixed by the chip manufactures, so its down to the Operating System providers to work on workaround and put fixes in place at a software layer.

Due to the reliance upon the software to resolve this issue, it has been mentioned that there could be performance impacts to the device, some people are talking about a performance hit of up to around 30% in certain circumstances.

What do you need to do?

As the Operating System is being updated, you should ensure that all your devices are kept up to date always, Microsoft, Linux, and other providers are pushing out updates as I write this, in fact, I have just installed the update from Microsoft for Windows 10.

If you are running older version of Widows, or Linux for example, you may not be protected, so its always best to ensure you are running supported systems to ensure you remain safe and secure.

Will my anti-virus protect me against this?

As part of your security best practice you should have anti-virus software running on all your devices. In theory, antivirus software should ensure you are protected against any attacks against these vulnerabilities, however security experts have mentioned that the attacks can be very difficult to detect, which may lead to issues down the line.

However, there is a silver lining to this, there is currently no known exploits available which is utilising these flaws.  You should expect to see an increase in malware and emails that are attempting to get you to download and run malicious applications.  You should remain vigilant and ensure you only execute applications you know are safe.

What happens if I use the cloud?

If you are running systems within the cloud, such as a Azure or AWS, then these are still affected, in fact AWS have been requesting forced restarts instances to ensure measures are put in place to protect your services.

Cloud servers still runs the same type of hardware and processors as enterprise machines, so you should be surprised that they are affected.

You should ensure that your backup and restores are in good working order and tested, just to ensure you are protected should any issues arise.

As always, update, update, update and ensure you are running the latest anti-virus available from your vendor.

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