What you need to know about Meltdown and Spectre

Hardware fixes are by nature much slower and more difficult than software fixes. tcareob72/Thinkstock

Apple has admitted that a pair of security vulnerabilities in processors affect "nearly all" iOS devices and Mac computers.

The technology world was rocked by the unveiling of major security flaws that could put millions of users at risk of having their data stolen.

Given kernel memory is dedicated to the core components and interactions of an operating system with its hardware, it is said that the flaw could be exploited by malicious programmes, namely Meltdown or Spectre, to expose secured information such as passwords, and effectively compromise a targeted machine or indeed server network. For example, a JavaScript application running in a browser on a website could potentially access your computer's kernel memory and rip through any information held there.

Advice from the U.S Computer Emergency Readiness Team's was grim.

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It is not known if hackers have abused the flaws, first discovered by the researchers separately a year ago.

Here's the issue: Modern processors are created to perform something called "speculative execution" to enhance performance. Microsoft and Google say that OEMs will need to provide users with these additional firmware updates to complete the Windows OS-level Spectre patches. Apple did not release a statement, but researchers have found evidence of patches in macOS and iOS. Microsoft also released a patch and security advisory for Windows, but noted that there is an issue with some "incompatible anti-virus applications" that could leave devices unable to boot and has not pushed the patch to systems with known AV issues. Now Apple has also issued a statement on the same saying all Macs and iOS devices are impacted by this security flaw.

Your antivirus app might might be preventing you from receiving the patch from Windows Update. That said, exploiting this bug wouldn't leave traces so it's hard to know if it's being used "in the wild", as security researchers say. "Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time". It is vital that users install any available patches without delay. AMD chips are also affected by at least one security flaw. Gmail users do not need to take any additional action to protect themselves, but users of its Chromebooks, Chrome web browser and users of Google Cloud services who have installed their own operating systems will need to install updates. When the security news site The Register published a story on January 2, it became impossible to wait and Intel and Google went public with the information. Malicious programmes could exploit these flaws "to get hold of secrets stored in the memory of other running programmes", the researchers said. "Exploits for these bugs will be added to hacker's standard toolkits", said Guido.

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