Software solutions in train to combat computer chip security flaws

Apple Stock Brushes Off Spectre, Meltdown Risks

"This might include your passwords stored in a password manager or browser, your personal photos, emails, instant messages and even business-critical documents".

The company already released updates for Windows 10, Windows 8.1, and Windows 7 operating systems.

"We created a microprocessor monoculture", said Bryan Cantrill, chief technology officer at Joyent, a cloud service owned by Samsung.

Apple Stock Brushes Off Spectre, Meltdown Risks

Here's a look at what's affected, what's being done about it and whether you should worry. The bottom line is that the information being processed in most of the world's computers can be accessed by people who are not authorized to do so.

Meltdown mainly affects Intel processors, which are used in Mac computers, and ARM-based processors that use Cortex-A75 cores. These will be similarly impossible to fix, and the only strategy will be to throw our devices away and buy new ones.This isn't to say you should immediately turn your computers and phones off and not use them for a few years. Tech companies typically withhold details about security problems until fixes are available so that hackers wouldn't have a roadmap to exploit the flaws.

Most of the immediate fixes will be limited to the Meltdown bug. But a recently discovered security flaw in chips made by Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and ARM highlights another important concern: bugs potentially affecting hardware found in the majority of computing devices. The second also affects AMD and some ARM chips, and means hackers could trick applications into giving up information. Sony, which has had its own security problems in recent years, hasn't yet clarified whether PlayStations might be vulnerable, but it is now thought they are not at risk.

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Microsoft said in a statement Thursday that it is not aware of any of these vulnerabilities being used against its customers. Cloud services, which often share machines amongst several customers, are especially vulnerable. All eyes will be on the new iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch chips, as Apple will likely be at the forefront of a new industry standard for dealing with speculative execution.

Unauthorized access will be hard to detect so cloud-computing providers need to act quickly to protect against these vulnerabilities, said Ryan Kalember, senior vice president of cybersecurity at Proofpoint. That could be a problem for big cloud systems.

There are limits to what consumers can do now to protect their computers.

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CERT in its January 3 vulnerability note for one of the two Spectre CVEs said the solution is replace CPU hardware, noting, "Underlying vulnerability is caused by CPU architecture design choices".

That's not to say nothing can be done.

Most cyber attacks involve finding a flaw in a computer's software that allows hackers to access the machine's memory or operating system.

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Gruss said Meltdown was the more serious problem in the short term but could be decisively stopped with software patches. However, Google, Firefox and Microsoft have implemented measures in most web browsers to stop hackers from launching remote attacks using Spectre. And although security patches exist for devices running Linux, Windows and Apple's OS X, the researchers said, the fix may slow down their performance by as much as 30 percent, according to some estimates.

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