The tech world has been abuzz recently over two new security vulnerabilities which could potentially affect almost all processors produced within the last 20 years. Dubbed “Meltdown” and “Spectre” respectively, it takes advantage of a flaw in the way processors handle code to access the internals of your CPU and uncover sensitive data.

Here’s how these exploits work: Many modern CPUs use a form of optimization known as “speculative execution” – a type of process that allows a CPU to predict a task ahead of time if extra resources are available. This is great for maximizing performance on repeatable workloads which can be buffered ahead of time without needing to wait for input from other sources. Meltdown and Spectre can take advantage of this execution; however, by allowing code in the kernel to be loaded into memory preemptively without needing to go through security checks means that someone running JavaScript code could theoretically sneak a peek at sensitive materials like keystrokes and passwords by injecting commands into your computer through your internet browser.

If you’re currently using an Intel CPU, you might be vulnerable to the ‘Meltdown’ exploit, which affects all Intel chips specifically. ‘Spectre’ vulnerabilities are trickier beasts to tame however, and all CPUs are potentially vulnerable with no easy fix. Microsoft, Linux and Apple have already begun to roll out patches to address ‘Meltdown’, with more cumulative updates planned to address ‘Spectre’ over time. Internet browsers such as Firefox 57 and the most recent updates to Internet Explorer and Windows 10 have already been patched to address the issue, with a fix scheduled for Google Chrome on the 23rd of January – though antsy users can choose to update to build 64 of the beta branch to get the patch now.

For those of us looking for a bit more protection on the OS side of things, unfortunately things still look a little messy at the moment. Windows 10 has released an emergency security patch, which you can find under update KB4056892 in your Settings Panel under Windows Update, but it may have issues running with most third party antivirus programs. Apple has released a statement claiming that most users should not be in immediate danger and that the issue was addressed in iOS 11.2, macOS10.13.2, and tvOS 11.2. If you have an OEM device under brands like Lenovo, Dell, HP or etc., then you’ll have to wait until individual fixes become available and then download the necessary drivers from your OEM’s website. If you have a self-assembled PC however, then you can go ahead and download the latest updates for your CPU from the Intel site directly for extra hardware protection.

Analysts claim that these security patches could cause slowdowns in recent Intel CPUs – especially with processes which fetch data from memory. Fortunately the average user should not have any problems since most of these processes are at a system specific level – surface level programs and games should not be affected. Make sure you take the necessary precautions to safeguard against ‘Meltdown’, and keep yourself posted on any potential updates for the Spectre exploit which should be coming in the following months.

 – Written by By Aaron Lim

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