Intel CPU Bugs Meltdown and Spectre: All You Should Know

By Thoinot Arbeau / January 6, 2018

Ever since personal computers came around, it has not been uncommon for them to be under threat from viruses or hackers. However, when the problem is caused by a flaw that a major hardware manufacturer is responsible for - the situation grows more serious. Namely, huge security flaws, popularly called Meltdown and Spectre, have been found in Intel, AMD, ARM processors. These might potentially allow hackers to take advantage of your personal data, as well as passwords or banking accounts. That, however, is not the end of the problem. The fixes that major tech companies have been releasing recently are proving to slow down our computers - some say by as much as 30%.

Let's learn more about what these flaws are and how to protect yourself from possible attacks.

What Are Meltdown and Spectre?

Meltdown and Spectre flaw

These are not physical problems with the CPUs themselves or software issues that may occur in the applications that you are using. The problem lies somewhere in between. The issues reside in the very way the processor works and executes instructions. The problem is that 90% of computers worldwide are affected by this flaw.

Meltdown affects Intel processors, and it breaks down barriers that prevent one application from entering other applications' kernel memory. Separating memory spaces is fundamental as it prevents apps from accessing each other's data. With Meltdown around, that barrier is nonexistent, so malicious software can see and manipulate the memory as well.

Spectre, on the other hand, affects not only Intel, but AMD and ARM as well, so it can cause problems with anything that has a chip. That includes smartphones, tablets, as well as online servers. Spectre, similarly to Meltdown, tricks applications into disclosing information that they should keep hidden.

What Is Being Done to Fix the Issue?

As BBC claims, tech giants have known about this problem for six months, so they have had enough time to think about a fix. Therefore, the whole computer industry is working overtime to do anything they can to fix the problem. The action that you can take right away is to update everything! There are basically four main things that you can to do mitigate the threat:

Some good news to hear is that there have not been any attacks related to Meltdown and Spectre yet. However, now that the bugs have been disclosed to the public, that will surely change. Our advice is to do all you can by following the advice, and you should be safe.

What Patches Are Available Already

On January 3, Microsoft issued a Windows Update that should protect Windows 10 users against these bugs. The patches should extend to include Windows 7 and 8 soon.

Intel has already published firmware updates for its CPUs. You may download them from your PC manufacturers (like Acer or Asus), rather than from Intel's website. The company says it expects to protect 90% of CPUs produced in the last 5 years, by January 12.

Apple issued a quiet security update on December 6, protecting macOS High Sierra 10.13.2, as well as iOS and tvOS 11.2.

Will These Patches Slow Down My PC?

Meltdown and Spectre Intel

Some experts claim that users might experience a 30% slowdown. However, Intel responds that these claims are exaggerated. As Intel adds, the slowdown will be "work-load dependent," so unless you are using your PC for intensive tasks, you should be fine. A growing number of tests support these claims; therefore, if you are using your PC for browsing and watching movies, you don't have to worry. The slowdown you might experience will be around 5%.

How Are the Tech Giants Reacting?

This problem comes at a very tricky time for the tech industry. Namely, CES 2018, the biggest tech show is just around the corner, so the new problem will definitely not be good for marketing. How will they deal with the fact that their newest products contain a flaw? And how will that affect the customers and sales? We are to find out soon.

Final Thoughts

Have you already taken all of the necessary measures to protect yourself from Meltdown and Spectre? Have you experienced any significant slowdown from the patches? Who do you think is to blame for the flaws in question? Tell us what you think.

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