Understanding Meltdown and Spectre with IT Support

Ever since news of the Meltdown and Spectre bugs broke at the beginning of this year, there has been much confusion and uncertainty. Two things, however, were clear for IT support providers in Milwaukee at the beginning: major new vulnerabilities had been found and few if any people knew exactly what could be done.

The vulnerabilities affect chips produced by Intel, IBM, AMD, and ARM. They could allow attackers to gain control of computers and steal data like encryption keys and passwords. Much of the threat has been largely theoretical, though proven exploits have been demonstrated. The one fortunate thing, so far is that according to key players such as Intel, no evidence exists to indicate that hackers in the wild have exploited the vulnerabilities.

So, what are Meltdown and Spectre?

Meltdown and Spectre are two similar, but separate, vulnerabilities in computer processing chips. Meltdown affects chips produced by Intel, ARM, and IBM. Spectre affects chips produced by Intel, ARM, and AMD. According to security analysts, these are catastrophic vulnerabilities.

What Can You Do to Address Meltdown and Spectre?

This is where it starts to get a bit difficult. Intel has announced that it will address Meltdown and Spectre in future generations of its chips. Once such chips are available, migration to the new chips may be widespread. In the meantime, the only thing that can be done is to implement updates in software that, hopefully, mitigate the risks.

What Software Updates Are Available?

When it comes to software updates that can protect you from Meltdown and Spectre, the picture gets even murkier. In the week or so following  the announcement of the bugs, Microsoft issued Windows updates that it said would address the bugs.

However, even when those Windows updates were available, they could not always be installed, as their implementation depended on whether antivirus vendors had issued updates that were compliant with the Windows updates or not. The Windows updates also depended, in some cases, on hardware vendors making their own software and driver updates available.

Do the Meltdown and Spectre Fixes Cause More Problems?

Unfortunately, for IT support providers in Milwaukee, the Windows updates may cause more problems than they solve. Initial forecasts estimated that computer processing power could take a hit of up to 30% because of the changes required in order to address the vulnerabilities.

Real-world testing of updated computers seemed to show that the performance penalties were nowhere nearly as bad as had been feared. Stability, however, did suffer. On January 22nd, Microsoft announced that users with Broadwell and Haswell chips should not install the latest microcode updates.

What is the Latest?

As of January 27th, Microsoft was still recommending that end users among others, should not update the microcode on many Intel CPU systems. For regular users, Windows updates that mitigate the vulnerabilities are available.

Staying on top of IT security through IT support providers in Milwaukee at is what you need. When computer chip manufacturers drop the ball like this, you might want to give up trying. At Risetech Partners, we work closely with clients to minimize the risks and hassles of exactly these kinds of problems. Get in touch to find out more.