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What are Spectre & Meltdown? Protect Processor Vulnerabilities

Meltdown and Spectre VulnerabilitiesIf you’ve been paying attention in technology news, you might have heard about Spectre and Meltdown. These are the names given to variations discovered on a vulnerability that is affecting nearly every single computer chip that has been manufactured worldwide in the past 20 years. The potential dangers that come from these processor vulnerabilities are unfathomable because they are so widespread and far-reaching. The cause of these flaws come from features built into computer chips in an attempt to meet increasing demands by consumers to run faster. Ironically, the software patches that are available to prevent these vulnerabilities may ultimately impact the performance of the system as a whole.

What is the Danger?

The concern is that if an exploit these processor vulnerabilities occurred, it will give attackers access to data that was previously considered protected. Business data protection is a serious concern. As a result, innovative technology solutions are being developed and applied across the board in an attempt to safeguard this critical data. The flaws were discovered by security researchers in late 2017 and were made public in early 2018. The primary concern at this time is about attackers exploiting speculative execution and caching, two essential techniques that have been used to increase speed in computer chips.

  • Caching – Most people have heard of caching. Browers, applications, and operating systems frequently ask the user if they want to clear the cache. Caching is used to speed up access to memory processing. The CPU cache is memory storage located on the CPU cache for quick access. The data that gets collected on the chip is what the CPU will need to use on a regular basis. The cache often stores data that is output by something known as speculative execution, which is where the vulnerability lies.
  • Speculative Execution – How does the computer chip know what data should be stored in the CPU cache? Speculative execution is what the chip does in an attempt to predict the future and work faster. There are many variations in how this occurs, but one standard method is when the chip identifies that the same function is being used frequently by a program. The chip will learn to compute that function before a request is made so that it will have the data ready when it finally is asked without delay.

Business Data Protection

When it comes to safeguarding essential data, including usernames and passwords for protected access, processor vulnerabilities are especially worrisome. Protected memory is considered to be a “foundational concept” of modern computer security. To maintain security, the ability to access data by a process should not be possible without permission. This function is how programs can keep data private from access by some users on the same network and is how an operating system can prevent secure data from being seen by other programs. A “privilege check” is used to determine who and what is allowed to access the private data.

Spectre could allow attackers to trick the processor into launching the speculative execution process, revealing the private data in the CPU cache as it tries to guess which function the computer needs it to perform. Meltdown can provide access to private data through the operating system using legitimate processes on the computer.

Unfortunately, privilege checks can take a long time to process, so the CPU will often use speculative execution and caching to work with the secured data even before it has permission. The results of the data are still secure because protection occurs at the hardware level. The privilege check must be passed to allow the process to see the data. If access is denied, the data is then discarded. However, with processor vulnerabilities like Spectre and Meltdown, potential attackers could use specific techniques to give them access to sensitive data.

What Can You Do?

Business owners need to do all they can to get ahead of these processor vulnerabilities through a series of innovative technology solutions. Business data protection is essential to the continued success of your company. It is not just about preventing access to usernames and passwords, but all of the critical data that your company uses every day. Consumer data, client lists, proprietary business information – the list goes on and on.

Perform all software updates for web browsers, applications, and security software scans for malware on a regular basis. Provide employee education about phishing emails and other tricks. Synivate can deliver all of the tools necessary to reduce the effects of Spectre and Meltdown to protect your sensitive data. If you have concerns about computer security for your business, contact Synivate directly to ensure that you have all of the proper programs, policies, and safeguards in place.

Don’t wait another day to protect your business from processor vulnerabilities like Spectre and Meltdown. Give us a call at 617-517-0704 in Boston, Sharon, Canton, Norwood, Foxboro, Needham, or anywhere in the Greater Boston area, to schedule an urgent consultation right away.