Every year some huge IT security issue appears and millions of users world-wide are shaking in fear and disbelief… Or at least they heard something about it. 🙂
It is 2018 and in the first days of January we already have the potential winner for this year’s biggest security issue.
Intel Corporation aka Intel is one of the two biggest CPU manufacturers in the world. CPU stands for “central processing unit” and it is the essential part of every PC, tablet or mobile phone. Apparently, Intel has been (and still is) producing hardware with security issues for the last 20 years and this was discovered just recently. The issues affect personal computers, mobile phones and servers. According to AMD, their processors do not have any of the related issues but Google’s researches reported that they were able to hack some of AMD’s processors.
Meltdown and Spectre exploit critical vulnerabilities in modern processors. These hardware bugs allow programs to steal data which is currently processed on the computer. While programs are typically not permitted to read data from other programs, a malicious program can exploit Meltdown and Spectre to get hold of secrets stored in the memory of other running programs. This might include your passwords stored in a password manager or browser, your personal photos, emails, instant messages and even business-critical documents. Meltdown and Spectre work on personal computers, mobile devices, and in the cloud. Depending on the cloud provider’s infrastructure, it might be possible to steal data from other customers.
Meltdown breaks the most fundamental isolation between user applications and the operating system. This attack allows a program to access the memory, and thus also the secrets, of other programs and the operating system.
Spectre breaks the isolation between different applications. It allows an attacker to trick error-free programs, which follow best practices, into leaking their secrets. In fact, the safety checks of said best practices actually increase the attack surface and may make applications more susceptible to Spectre.
You can find more about both exploits on Meltdown attack website.
It is possible, even if you use an antivirus program. But it is not confirmed that Meltdown and Spectre were actually used. Also, if you are an average PC user and not some high-profile individual in the eyes of hackers, you shouldn’t worry about it.
But now that everybody knows about the exploits, no doubt that mass campaigns of data stealing will be on the rise in the following weeks/months.
What you can and should do right away is to update your operating system. Initial patches for Windows 10, Linux and Mac are already available. You should also update your mobile OS and web browsers on all your devices to the latest version.
More information on how to protect against the Meltdown and Spectre.
Potentially the biggest problem in this whole story might be the security update aftermath. Intel confirmed that the CPU performance after the security updates might be reduced up to 30%, which is an insane number. So far, benchmarks didn’t show nothing even close to being this dramatic. We’ll surely know more in the following weeks as more security updates will roll in.