Two computer bugs have been all over the news lately: Spectre and Meltdown. In this article, we will address what these bugs are, how they work, who is impacted by them, and what you can do to protect your computers from possible attack.

What they are

Spectre and Meltdown are two vulnerabilities found in computer processors. The vulnerabilities have existed for upwards of 20 years, but a team at Google (Called Google’s Project Zero) discovered them recently. One of the researchers on this team described Spectre and Meltdown as “the worst CPU bugs ever found”. This is partly because the vulnerabilities are in the hardware of the processor, and therefore harder to fix. One researcher, Matt Tait, states that computer companies will have to “invent completely brand new types of computer science…and invent an entirely new way of a system protecting itself”.

How they work

Meltdown breaks the mechanism that keeps your computer applications from accessing system memory. Spectre, on the other hand, tricks applications into giving up information. In either case, cybercriminals can use these vulnerabilities to get at your computer’s memory and files.

Who is Impacted

The scariest thing about Spectre and Meltdown is the sheer number of devices that will be affected. These bugs affect processors but remember – even your cell phone has a processor in it. This basically means—everyone with a computer, a cell phone, a tablet, e-reader, or any other smart-device is affected by these vulnerabilities. Yes, even Apple products.

Meltdown affects any computer made between 1995 and 2013. (If you have a brand new computer or mobile device, you are likely safe from Meltdown.) However, Spectre affects even the most modern of devices.

How to Protect Yourself

Luckily, ever since these bugs were discovered, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft have been working tirelessly to fix them. Several fixes have already been created, but unfortunately, these may have an impact on your device's performance. Studies have shown that the fix for Meltdown, in particular, could slow your systems down by up to 30% especially on devices over 5 years old.

Our advice to you:

  1. Update your devices and applications (especially web browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Safari) as soon as those updates are available. (You can locate smart-device updates under Settings > System > Update). Contact your IT support team to verify that they are updating your devices as soon as an update has been created.
  2. Replace old computers and devices. Any device you own that is over 5 years old may experience detrimental slowness once these fixes are put into place. Sure, you’ll be more protected than you would have been otherwise, but it comes at a cost. By purchasing new computers (with the newest operating systems), you will save yourself the headache of slow or vulnerable machines.
  3. Use your common sense. Don’t open “phishing” emails or emails that look shady. Don’t download 3rd party software like apps on your phone or on your browser without completely trusting the developer. Plus, once all your devices are updated, change your passwords on every device.