Three huge computer security vulnerabilities were recently discovered which put private information nearly all computers at risk.
If you own a computer, tablet, or smartphone, your devices probably have a huge security flaw.
On January 3, three major computer security threat discoveries made by Google Project Zero in conjunction with a number of other researchers were made public. One of the threats, named Meltdown, affects most Intel processors produced since 1995 and a few ARM processors. This means that most modern Windows computers, all Macs since 2006 and many smart devices have processors with the Meltdown vulnerability.
The other two threats are lumped together under the name Spectre and affect nearly every device with a modern processor. That means your Intel or AMD windows computer, Android devices, and macOS and iOS devices.
Meltdown and Spectre are hardware issues based on vulnerabilities in modern processors and revolve around a process called speculative execution. A program using these exploits could steal sensitive data from your device such as passwords, pictures, messages, emails, or documents.
What does these threats mean for you? As far as Meltdown is concerned make sure you’re up to date on Windows security updates. Apple users should make sure they’re running High Sierra 10.13.2. Check your system or motherboard manufacturer’s website to see if they’re recently released a BIOS update for your computer or motherboard as this will contain a firmware update from Intel. If they have make sure to update to the newest BIOS.
While most phones shouldn’t be affected by Meltdown, Spectre is still a real threat. Apple claims mitigations are already in place if you have the latest iOS 11.2 update. Google phones, like the Pixel and Nexus lines, received an update on January 5th which is suppose to patch the issue. When non-Google branded Android phones will receive this patch is still unknown.
Most internet browsers have also pushed out updates as they are also vulnerable to Spectre attacks. Make sure whichever browsers you use are the latest versions.
All of these fixes and patches are likely to have a negative effect on device performance; however this will be highly dependent on workload and Intel claims most users shouldn’t notice any significant difference
Maybe the most important point to stress here is that even with all the proper updates your information’s safety is not guaranteed. Software and even firmware solutions are not foolproof Spectre especially is a broad class of attack possibilities which one patch cannot fix and will therefore likely be a problem for a long time.
There are a number of other general computer security measures you can put in place. Using two-factor authentication systems on your important accounts is something you should have already been doing. These latest threats make multi-factor systems even more valuable as they are one of the few that can protect you even when someone else already has your password information. Installing an antivirus software, however unsavory that is, might also be a good idea.
More information about Meltdown and Spectre, including original research papers, can be found at spectreattack.com.