ALERT: Meltdown/Spectre Vulnerability Grants Malware Access, Patch It Today
Mere months after the firmware in their computer chips was found to be seriously flawed, Intel’s flagship product has once again brought some unpleasant attention to the company. While the issue now has a fix, there was the possibility that a solution could depreciate the functionality of the CPU.
In a blog maintained by a user known only as Python Sweetness, a post went up stating that “an embargoed security bug impacting apparently all contemporary CPU architectures that implement virtual memory, requiring hardware changes to fully resolve.”
In layman’s terms, there was a bug that interfered with how other programs interacted with the CPU. A functioning CPU has two modes, kernel and user. User mode is the one that is generally considered ‘safe’ mode, while kernel mode grants access into the computer’s inner workings. Python Sweetness, however, realized that there was a bug that blurred the lines between user and kernel mode. This issue created a means for malware and other malicious programs to access a system’s hardware directly.
This bug was expected to cause the system to have to switch entire processes back and forth between user mode and kernel mode, which would ultimately slow any of the computer’s functions to a crawl. What’s worse, the initial expectation was that the computer could only be fixed with a hardware change. Fortunately, a fix was devised and released as a Windows update, costing only 2 percent of system performance (much less than what would be lost otherwise).
For PCs with Windows 10 installed and an antivirus that supports the patch, the fix should already be in place. However, to confirm this, go to Settings > Update & Security to see if there are any updates waiting to be installed. If not, check your update history for Security Update for Windows (KB4056892), or check with your antivirus provider to find out when it will be supported, the patch will not install until it sees that the antivirus has been updated to a version that the vendor verifies supports this patch.
If you have an Android device, there was an update on January 5 that provided mitigations, with the promise of more, further updates to add to these protections. Google-branded phones, including the Nexus and Pixel lines, should have already received the patches, and other Android phones may have as well. It is something that you should check, and if you haven’t received an update yet, reach out to your carrier and ask why (public forums get you extra points).
An update to Google Chrome is expected on January 23, with other browsers following suit, that will also include mitigations. In the meantime, ask your IT resource to help you activate Site Isolation to help keep a malicious website from accessing your data from another.
Other devices (like NAS devices, smart appliances, networking equipment, media equipment, etc.) may also be at risk, as they are using similar hardware. It’s really important for business owners to have their entire infrastructure reviewed and audited.
Of course, for the fix to take place, the update has to be installed. This is the reason that it is worth having a managed service provider looking out for your business. The MSP would be there, ear to the ground for news of updates, ready to jump into action on your behalf. As a representative of you business, you wouldn’t have to worry about dealing with any of it. This means that you and your staff would be free to focus on profit-generating initiatives, without the distraction of maintenance and updates.
QuestingHound Technology Partners can be that MSP for you. Call us at 954-727-2200 for more information.
John Boden is a Managing Partner at QuestingHound, Inc., a Deerfield Beach IT support company that has been helping small businesses in South Florida stop focusing on IT and getting back to doing business the past 18 years. He promotes a culture that is dedicated to the highest standard of ethics, hard work, and outstanding customer service. Connect with John on LinkedIn.