Meltdown and Spectre Vulnerabilities: What they mean for you

You may have seen a recent news headline about critical vulnerabilities being found in just about every modern CPU (computer processor) manufactured in the last decade. These fall into two categories: Meltdown and Spectre. (If you haven’t, check out this article for a quick overview:

Since this vulnerability compromises processor behavior underneath the entire operating system, the damage that can be inflicted by an attacker exploiting these vulnerabilities is devastating and undercuts the majority of defenses and monitoring sensors in place today. This is primarily why this has caused so much alarm in the information technology and cybersecurity worlds. Hackers have a new widely available way to steal sensitive data including passcodes and encryption keys without you even knowing it.

This sounds very scary, and for certain large businesses and government agencies, it is in many ways a nightmare scenario. The good news is that the technology industry as a whole had been working to fix these problems for months before this news even became public. Now that some of the dust has settled, we wanted to share a few notes about what this means for most small and medium sized businesses who are not the target of a sophisticated attacker.

  1. The sky is not suddenly falling. While these are very sophisticated and dangerous vulnerabilities which will be with us for a long while, they generally require a victim to either run a malicious software program or visit a malicious website. Both of these actions have always presented a risk to business IT environments, so we’re all still fighting the same battles. The secure best practices that we advocate to mitigate “everyday” threats still apply with Meltdown and Spectre. If you’re not already working with NorthSky to implement secure computing practices and defense technologies, Meltdown and Spectre serve as a great reminder and wakeup call to do so.

  2. We have been vetting and selectively deploying software updates and OS patches which incrementally address these vulnerabilities. For our Managed IT Services clients, these are being applied behind the scenes as part of our ongoing patch management program.

  3. Because these vulnerabilities exploit features of the processor designed to squeeze every bit of speed from your computer, patches to Windows and other operating systems are having to change how they use these features to assure security rather than solely prioritizing raw speed. As a result, it is a known side effect that the patches to secure computers also causes them to run slower. Exactly how much slower depends on the types of computing operations being performed. While some operations are up to 30% slower on patched machines, the real world impact varies widely based on processor, Windows version, and how you use your computer. We do know 2 things:

    • Computers sold 2015 and prior OR running Windows 7/Windows 8 tend to see a bigger performance hit than newer computers running Windows 10.
    • In general, most users can expect to see around a 10% impact to performance.

NorthSky Technology’s security professionals continue to closely monitor and manage this situation and are working hard to keep you prepared for the situations to come. As part of our efforts to ensure that our clients remain adequately protected against all threats old and new, we are working on a new service offering called Managed Security. Managed Security is an add-on to our Managed IT Service offering which provides an even greater level of ongoing device security protection and defense for businesses who highly prioritize their information security programs. Stay tuned for more details!