What is Spectre and Meltdown?

Spectre and Meltdown are the names given to different variants of the same basic and underlying vulnerability that affects nearly every computer chip manufactured in the last 20 years. Because of this vulnerability, if exploited, it can allow cybercriminals to get access to data previously considered completely protected. Security researchers discovered the vulnerability flaws late in 2017 and publicized them in early 2018. Technically, there are three variations on the vulnerability, each given its own CVE number; two of those variants are grouped together as Spectre (Spectre 1 and 2 variants) and the third is dubbed Meltdown.

When Spectre and Meltdown were first revealed in 2018, the published research revealed that nearly every computer chip manufactured in the last 20 years contains fundamental security flaws. The flaws arise from features built into chips that help them run faster, and while software patches are available, they may have impacts on system performance. There is as of yet no evidence that these flaws have been exploited in the open. However, such exploits would be difficult to detect, and the flaws are so fundamental and widespread that security researchers are calling them catastrophic.

Patches and updates have been released since February 2018

Microsoft, Intel, Apple, and other hardware manufacturers have been releasing patches and updates since February to combat Spectre and Meltdown. However, the process for releasing these patches and updates addressing all variants of the vulnerability has been a bumpy road, marred by high-profile incompatibility issues with third-party antivirus (AV) software and AMD processors. So far, patches and updates for Windows 10, Windows 8, and Windows 7 have come through at least 90% successfully.

The latest patches

A new IT report has indicated that a new wave of patches is expected in May this year, with a second wave of patches for August. This is deduced by Google’s Project Zero team having discovered a new set of issues it has dubbed Spectre New Generation. Lumped together, this new set of vulnerabilities is eight in total.

Of the eight vulnerabilities, four are rated as “high risk,” while the other four are rated as “medium” by Intel; but even these “medium” vulnerabilities can wreak havoc on any computer. The new IT report claims that one of the vulnerabilities is a “VM escape,” meaning that it can potentially allow hackers operating in a virtual machine (VM) or container to break free from those confines and gain control of the underlying hardware. Relative to the original Spectre and Meltdown disclosures, this new discovery puts the vulnerability in a different but higher level since hackers, instead of using a computer, can use a VM to penetrate into any computer.


This entry was posted by Staff Writer on Thursday, May 31, 2018 at 6:24:59 AM and is filed under Computer Security & Data Protection.

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