Meltdown and Spectre – Should you worry?

Meltdown and Spectre are the names given to vulnerabilities in Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and ARM computer chips that rely on something called “speculative execution,” which is when your computer tries to guess what you will do next so it can perform a task faster. This exploit considered “very serious” by Security Analysts affects nearly every computer chip manufactured in the past twenty years.

Meltdown and Spectre exploit these vulnerabilities in your computer’s processor by allowing access to your operating system’s kernel memory due to the way the your computer’s processor handles speculative execution.  It breaks the isolation between user applications and the operating system.  This can then allow a hacker access to sensitive information like passwords and other critical data.

Meltdown mainly affects laptops and desktop computers using most of Intel’s chips and one ARM chip. Computers made with these chips include PCs and Apple.

Spectre attacks Intel, AMD and ARM chips.  Computers made with these chips include both PCs and Apple as well as Smartphones.

Major companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google were able to get patches out in front of these vulnerabilities before the news of them went public and are currently patching their systems as this is being written.  This is also true of Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, and Google Chrome web browsers. Firefox has a download available.  As for Android, Google says that their latest software is safe from Spectre, but if your device is old you may not be able get the update.

Finally, these patches are sent as routine updates that happen automatically when you update your system.  If you are asked to download patches or updates beware! Hackers in Germany sent fake update emails that said to download patches! Once downloaded they exploited the vulnerabilities and accessed those computers. Never download anything sent via email.  Always check for updates thru your system by checking for updates within the settings of your computer or smartphone or better yet, let it happen automatically.

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