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hackers, cyber crime, cybersecurity, cyber security, IT security, Data Security

Meltdown and Spectre, practical advice and system patches

By : Jess Jepson / 09 January, 2018 /

Meltdown and Spectre are two words that rocked the cyber security industry recently, gaining lots of media coverage with the news that modern processors have some pretty serious security vulnerabilities.

Following research from Google, academia and cybersecurity firms it was discovered that computer chips used in nearly all modern computers contain flaws that have the potential to give hackers access to a computer's memory enabling them to steal data, such as passwords saved in web browsers. So far, it’s been announced that Phones, Desktops, Laptops, Switches, Servers and Tablets are all effected, further highlighting the need for a rapid fix.

What does this all mean?

Collectively, Meltdown and Spectre have the potential to effect billions of systems around the world - essentially, if the CPU in a device supports out-of-order execution (the ability to execute multiple tasks within the CPU, while retraining the order in which to complete) your device will be affected.  Rogue applications or software installed on the device could read security Kernel space memory and possibly steal passwords, emails or other sensitive data.

However, to initiate a Spectre or Meltdown based attack, the attacker must be able to physically run code on the victim’s processor which means the risk is hugely reduced. 

What can I do?

Since the discovery, the industry has been scrambling to get security patches in place for their operating systems.

For any equipment you have on site, we recommend that you apply the patches provided for the operating systems you have in use (see table below) – we are working closely with our suppliers to provide confidence in the security of the devices and systems deployed and if assistance is required on patching and updating, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Our best advice, as with any system security risk, is to try and be proactive- seek out and apply patches, ensure software versions are up to date and speak with your suppliers to gain advice on when updates are being released.

We would also advise that you block online ads, browser scripts and any page trackers. 

VMWare  https://www.vmware.com/us/security/advisories/VMSA-2018-0002.html  
Microsoft  https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4056892/windows-10-update-kb4056892  
Apple  https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208394 
Red Hat  https://access.redhat.com/security/vulnerabilities/speculativeexecution 
Debian  https://security-tracker.debian.org/tracker/CVE-2017-5754 
Ubuntu  https://wiki.ubuntu.com/SecurityTeam/KnowledgeBase/SpectreAndMeltdown 
Citrix  https://support.citrix.com/article/CTX231399 
Xen  https://xenbits.xen.org/xsa/advisory-254.html 
Cisco  https://tools.cisco.com/security/center/content/CiscoSecurityAdvisory/cisco-sa-20180104-cpusidechannel 
ShoreTel http://www.mitel.com/mitel-product-security-advisory-18-0001  
Mitel  http://www.mitel.com/mitel-product-security-advisory-18-0001  
V1  Virtual1
Gamma  Gamma are fully aware of the vulnerabilities and are working to remediate where appropriate. Not all systems are impacted, and remediation will be prioritised based on the assessed risk.  Should patching be required then as per their usual practice, these will be fully tested in lab and staging environments before a staged roll-out to our geo-resilient Production systems. To date there have been no reported security breaches related to these vulnerabilities. Further, Gamma deploys multiple layers of protective security measures to guard against the known methods and vectors that are used to exploit such reported flaws. Gamma will continue to monitor this developing situation closely to ensure that their systems, customer services and data remain secure.

 

What is Meltdown?

This is a flaw that affects laptops, desktop computers and internet servers with Intel chips. It lets hackers bypass the hardware barrier between applications run by users and the computer's kernel memory. This has the potential to let hackers access the content of this portion of a computer's memory. This would enable them to steal data, such as passwords saved in web browsers.

What is Spectre?

This bug affects chips from Intel, AMD and ARM and lets hackers potentially trick otherwise error-free applications into giving up secret information. 'Spectre' affects chips in smartphones and tablets, as well as computer chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Hackers can trick apps into leaking sensitive information. Spectre is a broader bug that applies to nearly all computing devices. It is harder for hackers to take advantage of but less easily patched and will be a bigger problem in the long term.

Where can I get more information?

The news has been covered broadly in the media, for further reading we recommend the following website as a reliable source of information www.meltdownattack.com and Forbes is maintaining an up-to-date list of the technology companies' patches and responses to Meltdown and Spectre.

Tags: hackers, cyber crime, cybersecurity, cyber security, IT security, Data Security

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