What are Meltdown and Spectre? Do they only affect Intel chips? Will the fixes slow my computer and what even is a processor?
Meltdown and Spectre are the names of two serious security flaws that have been found within computer processors. They could allow hackers to steal sensitive data without users knowing, one of them affecting chips made as far back as 1995.
What are Meltdown and Spectre?
Meltdown is a security flaw that could allow hackers to bypass the hardware barrier between applications run by users and the computers core memory, which is normally highly protected.
Spectre is slightly different. It potentially allows hackers to trick otherwise error-free applications into giving up secret information.
Is it serious?
Yes. Meltdown is probably one of the worst CPU bugs ever found according to Daniel Gruss, one of the researchers at Graz University of Technology who discovered the flaw. It is very serious in the short term and needs immediate attention.
Spectre, on the other hand, is harder for hackers to take advantage of but is also more difficult to fix and is expected to be a bigger problem in the long term.
What kinds of devices are affected?
Practically every computing device affected by Spectre, including laptops, desktops, tablets, smartphones and even cloud computing systems. A few lower power devices, such as certain Internet of Things gadgets, are unaffected.
What is a processor?
The processor, or central processing unit (CPU), is the primary chip in a computer that carries out the instructions of a computer program in essence, the brain of the computer.
When you command a program to do something, it is the processor that carries out that command, co-operating with the rest of the system to perform whatever task is needed.
There are other types of processors, including graphics processing units (GPU) or graphics cards, co-processors such as sensor chips that detect motion or similar physical conditions, but the term processor without a caveat is generally exclusively used to describe the CPU.
Does it only affect Intel processors?
Spectre affects all modern processors, including those designed by Intel, AMD and ARM, but Meltdown is currently thought only to affect Intel chips manufactured since 1995, with the exception of the Itanium and Atom chips made before 2013.