Meltdown and Spectre vulns affect Intel, AMD and ARM Processors

1/5/2018 Updates:

Despite financial news headlines downplaying the impact, Google Project Zero disclosed vulnerabilities that impact all major CPU, including AMD, ARM and Intel – threatening almost all PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones regardless of manufacturer or operating system.

There are two attacks: Meltdown (CVE-2017-5754) and Spectre (CVE-2017-5753 and CVE-2017-5715), which could allow attackers to steal sensitive data being processed by a computer.

I have been reading about these in some depth but will not dive into any technical details because not really my field of study or expertise. 

This post is about what you can do, now/today and what you should do and look for going forward.

Operating System Updates

Many vendors have security patches available for one or both of these attacks but it’s unclear if they address them fully – here’s the latest info:

  • Windows – Microsoft has an update for Windows 10 available now, other versions of Windows will have a patch on January 9, 2018
  • MacOS – Apple’s macOS High Sierra 10.13.2 update last month fixed most of the holes, but MacOS 10.13.3 will enhance or complete these mitigations.
  • Android – Google released patches for Pixel/Nexus in the January security update.  Other users have to wait for their device manufacturers to release a compatible security update.
  • Linux – kernel developers have released patches by implementing kernel page-table isolation (KPTI) to move the kernel into an entirely separate address space (or security domain).

Chrome Browser

Since this exploit can be executed through the website, Chrome users can turn on the Site Isolation feature to mitigate these flaws.
Here’s how to turn Site Isolation on Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome OS or Android:
  • Copy chrome://flags/#enable-site-per-process 
  • Paste it into the URL field at the top of your Chrome web browser and hit the Enter key.
  • Look for “Strict Site Isolation”, then click the box labeled “Enable”.
  • Once done, hit Relaunch Now to relaunch your Chrome browser.

More About the Attacks

Meltdown allows attackers to read not only the kernel memory but also the entire physical memory of the target machines, therefore all secrets of other programs and the operating system itself.

It breaks the isolation between user applications and the operating system allowing any application to access all system memory including memory allocated for the kernel.

Spectre also breaks the isolation between different applications allowing a malicious program to trick error-free programs into leaking their secrets by forcing them to access arbitrary portions of it’s memory which can be read through a side channel.

This violates isolation boundaries using native code, aka 5 lines of Javascript can bully your web browser into reading the memory space of other applications or a hypervisor can leak info into a guest system.

Even more info can be found here:

Good luck!

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