How to protect your PC from the major Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws
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A pair of nasty CPU flaws exposed this week have serious ramifications for home computer users. Meltdown and Spectre let attackers access protected information in your PCâs kernel memory, potentially revealing sensitive details like passwords, cryptographic keys, personal photos and email, or anything else youâve used on your computer. Itâs a serious flaw. Fortunately, CPU and operating system vendors pushed out patches fast, and you can protect your PC from Meltdown and Spectre to some degree.
Itâs not a quick one-and-done deal, though. Theyâre two very different CPU flaws that touch every part of your operating system, from hardware to software to the operating system itself. Check out PCWorldâs Meltdown and Spectre FAQ for everything you need to know about the vulnerabilities themselves. Weâve cut through the technical jargon to explain what you need to know in clear, easy-to-read language. Weâve also created an overview of how the Spectre CPU bug affects phones and tablets.
The guide youâre reading now focuses solely on protecting your computer against the Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws.
How to protect your PC against Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws
Hereâs a quick step-by-step checklist, followed by the full process.
- Update your operating system
- Check for firmware updates
- Update your browser
- Keep your antivirus active
First, and most important: Update your operating system right now. The more severe flaw, Meltdown, affects âeffectively every [Intel] processor since 1995,â a ccording to the Google security researchers that discovered it. Itâs an issue with the hardware itself, but the major operating system makers have rolled out updates that protect against the Meltdown CPU flaw.
Microsoft pushed out an emergency Windows patch late in the day on January 3. If it didnât automatically update your PC, head to Start > Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update, then click the Check now button under âUpdate status.â (Alternatively, you can just search for âWindows Update,â which also works for Windows 7 and 8.) Your system should detect the available update and begin downloading it. Install the update immediately.
If you donât see it for whatever reason, you can download the Windows 10 KB 4056892 patch directly here. Youâll need to know whether to grab the 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) version of the update. To determine if your PC runs a 32- or 64-bit version of Windows, simply type âsystemâ (without the quotation marks) into Windows search and click the top listing. Itâll open a Control Panel window. The âSystem typeâ listing will tell you which version of Windows youâre running. Most PCs released in the past decade will be using the 64-bit operating system.
Apple quietly worked Meltdown protections into macOS High Sierra 13.10.2, which released in December. If your Mac doesnât automatically apply updates, force it by going into the App Storeâs Update tab. Chromebooks should have already updated to Chrome OS 63 in December. It contains mitigations against the CPU flaws. Linux developers are working on kernel patches. Patches are also available for the Linux kernel.
Now for the bad news. The operating system patches will slow down your PC, though the extent varies wildly depending on your CPU and the workloads youâre running. Intel expects the impact to be fairly small for most consumer applications like games or web browsing. Our FAQ digs into potential PC performance slowdowns from the patches. You still want to install the updates for security reasons.
Check for a firmware update
Because Meltdownâs CPU exploits exist on a hardware level, Intel is also releasing firmware updates for its processors. âBy the end of next week, I ntel expects to have issued updates for more than 90 percent of processor products introduced within the past five years,â it said in a statement on January 4. The company also released a detection tool that can help you determine whether you need a firmware update.
Actually getting those firmware updates is tricky, because firmware updates arenât issued directly from Intel. Instead, you need to snag them from the company that made your laptop, PC, or motherboardâ"think HP, Dell, Gigabyte, et cetera. Intelâs support page dedicated to the vulnerability includes links to support pages for all of its partners, where you can find any available firmware updates and information for your particular PC. Most prebuilt computers and laptops have a sticker with model details somewhere on their exterior.
Update your browser
Microsoft updated Edge and Internet Explorer alongside Windows 10. Firefox 57 also wraps in some Spectre safeguards. Chrome 63 made âSite Isolationâ an optional experimental feature. You can activate it right now by entering chrome://flags/#enable-site-per-process into your URL bar, then clicking Enable next to âStrict site isolation.â Chrome 64 will have more protections in place when it launches on January 23.
Keep your antivirus active
Finally, this ordeal underlines how important it is to keep your PC protected. The Google researchers who discovered the CPU flaws say that traditional antivirus wouldnât be able to detect a Meltdown or Spectre attack. But attackers need to be able to inject and run malicious code on your PC to take advantage of the exploits. Keeping security software installed and vigilant helps keep hackers and malware off your computer. Plus, âyour antivirus may detect malware which uses the attacks by comparing binaries after they become known,â Google says.
PCWorldâs guide to the best antivirus for Windows PCs can help you find the best option for your setup.To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.Source: Google News US Technology | Netizen 24 United States