Meltdown & Spectre, What You Should Know

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Over the last few days, mainstream media has been sounding the alarm over two security vulnerabilities named Meltdown and Spectre.  What is unique about this latest security threat is that the flaws are within the design architecture of the processors that run virtually every computer and mobile device on the planet.  Yes, you read that right, you are almost certainly impacted by these flaws.

So, now that you are concerned, what should you do?  In a nutshell, watch for operating system and software updates and apply them as soon as you can.  Not your anti-virus or anti-malware software.  These won’t help.  Watch for operating system and firmware updates, as well as application updates and apply them.

If your company works with an MSP, like the company I work for, you can likely breathe a little easier.  Companies like Onepath were aware of these threats before the news hit and have been actively monitoring for patches from the hardware and software manufacturers, testing them and pushing them out to managed computers and mobile devices to patch them against the threat.  We sent out an advisory to all of our managed clients on Thursday, which may review at this link.  There is some good information in this advisory, including links to more detailed articles on the matter.

As of now, it is unclear if any malicious actors have actually used these threats to steal information.  It is thought not to be the case, but this is a rapidly developing story.  The good news is that to exploit these threats on a computer or mobile device, a hacker would need to get their malicious software installed on your computer or mobile device in order to take advantage of the exploits.  If you are practicing safe computing, you are likely safe for now, just as you should be against any malicious threat.

Cloud server infrastructures are thought to possibly be at greater risk.  Cloud providers are working diligently to patch their infrastructures to protect their customers, but most of us have less control over those resources as they are managed by the Cloud providers. We have to rely on them to tell us what they are doing to safeguard their systems.

For those that are interested in the technical side of this issue, Meltdown allows access to information running in memory on the affected computer or mobile device.  By allowing a hacker to gain access to what’s in memory, a bad actor could potentially steal passwords and other sensitive information, including what’s stored in password managers and browser sessions.  Spectre, on the other hand, allows a hacker to jump between applications, penetrating a security isolation long thought to be impenetrable.

As I stated earlier, the real risk to the average business and consumer is really not yet known.  The best defense is a strong offense, so making sure your computers and mobile devices are updated when manufacturers release their updates is the best thing you can do.  Some updates have already been released.  Others are thought to take days, weeks or even months to get to users.  I will continue to monitor developments related to these threats and posts updates as new and actionable information becomes available.  In the meantime, stay safe online and keep your defenses up.

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