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Tech companies work to patch major computer vulnerabilities Meltdown and Spectre

Intel denied that the patches would bog down computers based on Intel chips.

Security researchers Wednesday disclosed a set of security flaws that they said could let hackers steal sensitive information from almost every modern computing device containing chips from Intel Corp., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and ARM Holdings.

Intel was rocked this week after Google engineers discovered two major security flaws in the way the company's chips operate.

Because of this distinction, Williams said during a SANS webcast that the primary use of Meltdown appeared to be for privilege escalation and container/virtualization hypervisor escape, while Spectre would primarily be exploited through JavaScript execution in the browser.

Hardware fixes are, by nature, much slower and more hard (and more expensive!) than software fixes since they require all of us to go out and buy new computers rather than just downloading a patch-though convincing people to install updates is a challenge of its own. Security patches offer a workaround, but The Register initially reported that they could slow down PCs by 5 to 30 percent, leading to widespread alarm.

Owners of Surface laptops and convertibles will get those updates applied automatically through Windows Update once they're finished, according to Microsoft. The Redmond giant released yesterday an emergency update with kernel fixes to protect Windows users from the security flaw, highlighting that the security exploit is serious but hasn't been actually used for now.

Today's analyst note from Barclays says that while Intel and AMD clearly don't see eye to eye about the details of the vulnerability, it doesn't believe the situation will result in a negative financial impact (particularly for Intel).

But Intel said that it had found a fix for 90% of its processors made in the last five years and that the fix will be ready by the end of next week.

The vulnerabilities also affect the cloud systems of Amazon, Google and Apple. But these cloud services also use computers with the same types of problem chips. As you can imagine, the usual doom and gloom ensues, but the company also gave some advice to those concerned about the possible negative outcomes associated with the vulnerabilities. We'll have to wait for a new generation of computer chips, and personal computers, before it can be addressed.

Although billions of computers and devices are vulnerable, security fixes are already being rolled out.

That's not to say nothing can be done. Apple Inc, Microsoft Corp and other software makers have issued patches to protect against the vulnerabilities. Apple did not release a statement, but researchers have found evidence of patches in macOS and iOS.

Google Chrome 64, which is coming on January 23rd, will have updates to help protect against these exploits, but fortunately Chrome already has a feature called "Site Isolation" that can help, though it is disabled by default and will negatively affect performance.

The company does admit that in some cases the performance impact from software updates might be "higher", though it adds "additional post-deployment identification, testing and improvement of the software updates should mitigate that impact". "If you aren't up to date, then there's a lot of other nasties out there you should probably also be worrying about".

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