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A Guide to Meltdown and Spectre Vulnerabilities

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A Guide to Meltdown and Spectre Vulnerabilities

Though Meltdown and Spectre were discovered some months ago, they continue to give security professionals and devs a headache.

· Security Zone ·
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Meltdown and Spectre

Intel chip flaws opened the gates for two possible exploits -- Meltdown and Spectre. The bugs are worrisome for almost every person using a computer, laptop, and mobile device. The hardware errors have provided a new attack surface for malicious programs to steal data stored in the CPU cache memory. These programs can read your data, including personal photos, passwords, instant messages, and business-critical information. 

These vulnerabilities are different from the ones which we have seen earlier. They leave limited forensic trace information. There is no possible way to know that your system has been attacked. It is also difficult to know what data was compromised by the intrusion.

The twin vulnerabilities have attacked CPUs from Intel, AMD, and ARM, and fixing the hardware is not possible anymore. Therefore, Microsoft and Apple have upgraded their operating systems to address these problems; though this is not a permanent solution. The flaws are so widespread that security researchers regard them as cataclysmic.

How the Attacks Surfaced

The vulnerabilities were unearthed on 3rd January 2018 by research that revealed that nearly all computer chips manufactured in the last 20 years contain fundamental security flaws. The vulnerabilities were termed Spectre and Meltdown. The flaws stemmed from an added functionality called “ speculative execution.” The functionality was factored to improve the clock speed of CPUs. But the cache memory inside the chips was still susceptible to malicious attacks.

What Is Speculative Execution?

Speculative execution is a clock speed accelerator used in modern days CPUs. Normally, it takes a long time for a CPU to fetch data from RAM, residing on another chip. Speculative Execution uses cache memory to speed up memory access. The cache memory resides on the CPU chip and it can be accessed to speed up processing. The data required by the chip is derived from the protected memory. While caching and speculative execution of the chip also derives private data without a user's permission.

Why Are These Vulnerabilities Catastrophic?

Both vulnerabilities provide a weak surface area for malware attacks. The hackers can use JavaScript coding to spin a web browser and gain access to password information. Meltdown can be used to view data hosted on hardware and the cloud. The fundamental errors reside at the hardware level and they cannot be patched.

How to Compute Safely

Users should upgrade their systems without any delay. They should not store passwords on web browsers. It is wise to dedicated storage systems for saving confidential information. The latest updates can mitigate risks and protect your systems to an extent.

Hope these steps will secure your applications form the Meltdown/Spectre Vulnerability.

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Topics:
security ,cybersecurity ,meltdown ,spectre vulnerabilities

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