Meltdown and Spectre

Should You Worry About Meltdown and Spectre?

### Updated – 1/17/2018 

More recent news about Meltdown and two variants of Spectre have caused some confusion. After first saying that the second variant of Spectre would not affect their CPUs, AMD is now releasing a patch through computer and motherboard manufacturers. While the AMD patches should be available next week for their newest processors, they will be slower to release them for older processors. 

Intel last week confirmed that its firmware patches for the CPU flaws have been causing a higher number of reboots on Broadwell and Haswell chips. The company had reportedly told its datacenter customers to hold off on applying the patch due to the errors. 

Microsoft is withholding its patch for Meltdown for computers that have certain anti-virus software due to installation failure. Follow up with your anti-virus software vendor for more information.

To find out if your computer has been patched, you can download  InSpectre, a  simple tool made by Gibson Research that detects if your PC is vulnerable to Meltdown and Spectre. If it is, continue checking with your antivirus software and computer manufacturer to find when they will be releasing patches and continue to keep your anti-virus signatures updated. ###

The CPU flaws, Meltdown and Spectre have caused a tremendous amount of anxiety in the computer industry. But If you are an average, everyday computer user, you don’t have much to worry about. So far, the vulnerabilities have not been exploited. More than likely, your computer has already received the updates that will protect you.

It is hard to keep up with all the changes Intel, AMD, and Microsoft are making to their fixes for Meltdown and Spectre. Some updates were suspended because they bricked computers. Some were fixed and re-released. New ones have been released for additional, recently discovered flaws. However, most updates and update fixes are now released.

Decrease in performance

The Meltdown and Spectre updates will decrease performance, no matter what processor or operating system you are using. Microsoft and Intel say that you should expect anywhere from a 6 to 10% decrease in performance after the updates. Some are saying this is optimistic and industry spin.

In reality, the hit on performance will depend on how you use your computer. You may notice little difference while web browsing or when editing a document. You will see more of a decrease in speed while editing with a graphics program or calculating a large spreadsheet.

Older Intel processors will see more of a decrease in performance. While users with newer computers that have Skylake, Kaby Lake, or Coffee Lake (6, 7, and 8th generation) processors may see negligible decreases, users with older computers may see as much as a 30% decrease in performance. Yikes!

Windows 7 and Windows 8 will see significantly more of a decrease in performance after the updates than Windows 10. Linux computers will also see a decrease after updating. Depending upon workload and processor, Linux performance decreases are similar to Windows. 

Microsoft Meltdown and Spectre updates

On January 3 Microsoft pushed updates that will protect against Meltdown and Spectre on computers running Windows 10, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. They also pushed updates for their web browsers, Internet Explorer 11 and Edge. Microsoft temporarily suspended updates for computers with AMD processors after reports they disabled rebooting. They resumed those updates on January 10.

AMD changed its rhetoric and admitted that its chips are susceptible to variant #2 of the Spectre flaw. Microsoft has not yet released an update to fix this flaw but is working with AMD to schedule one.

Apple Meltdown and Spectre updates

Apple has already released updates in iOS 11.2, macOS 10.13.2, and tvOS 11.2 to help defend against Meltdown. To help defend against Spectre, Apple released updates in iOS 11.2.2, the macOS High Sierra 10.13.2 Supplemental Update, and Safari 11.0.2 for macOS Sierra, and OS X El Capitan. Apple Watch isn’t affected by Meltdown or Spectre. Visit support.apple.com for more information on updates for Apple products.

Linux Meltdown and Spectre updates

Linux distributors were quick to release patches only to re-release them because the first round caused Ubuntu computers to fail to reboot. Since AMD decided that its chips are susceptible to variant #2 of the Spectre flaw, they have released another patch for Linux. Most updates are now released for Linux computers. 

Android Meltdown and Spectre updates

Android phones are also susceptible to Sceptre. It seems that only phones with the newest ARM processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, are susceptible to Meltdown. Most of these should have updates available. Google has patched Android against both Spectre and Meltdown attacks with the December 2017 and January 2018 system updates. Unfortunately, since it is up to phone manufacturers to release updates, most older Android phones and tablets will not be patched.

Google has already patched the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL. Samsung and LG should update their newest flagship phones. For more on Samsung updates, you can go to the Samsung Mobile Security website. If you have an LG phone, see the LG update portal. For other smartphones and tablets, check with your manufacturers’ website, or see this handy table from 9to5Google.

Other processors and Cloud computers

Some IBM PowerPC processors and a handful of other processors are susceptible to the bugs also, but these CPUs are not in common consumer devices. Most are in mainframes, cloud, and datacenter computers. Cloud vendors, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have been prompt to patch their computers.

Hardware and BIOS updates

Although software fixes will protect against exploits of Meltdown and Spectre, most processor and motherboard manufacturers will be releasing BIOS updates. The best way to get the updates is with software that comes pre-installed on computers. Utilities like HP Support Assistant, Dell Update, and Lenovo System Update normally run in the background on their respective computers and should automatically download BIOS and driver updates. Otherwise, you should visit your computer manufacturer’s support website to download updates.

Bottom Line

Everyday computer users shouldn’t have much to fret about. Other than older Android smartphones and tablets, your device is probably already updated and protected.

For those with older Android devices, you should be careful of what you download and what links you click. Both Meltdown and Spectre are difficult to exploit. It’s unlikely that you are in too much danger, as long as you use a good anti-virus app, only download apps from Google Play, and use caution when visiting unknown websites.

No matter what computer or device you use, make good safety practices a habit. Update your OS and application software, automatically if possible. Always scan downloaded files with antivirus programs before opening. Be wary of unknown websites and links in email messages. Pay attention to https and lock icons in your browser’s address bar for websites you commonly visit, to guard against phishing. Use a bit of common sense and all should be fine.

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Summary
Should You Worry About Meltdown and Spectre?
Article Name
Should You Worry About Meltdown and Spectre?
Description
The computer and smartphone processor flaws, Meltdown and Spectre have caused a tremendous amount of worry in the computer industry, but If you are an average everyday computer user, you don't have much to worry about.
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The Practical Computer
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