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Details have emerged on two major processor security flaws, and the industry is scrambling to issue fixes and secure machines for customers. Dubbed “Meltdown” and “Spectre,” the flaws affect nearly every device made in the past 20 years. The Meltdown flaw primarily affects Intel and ARM processors, and researchers have already released proof-of-concept code that could lead to attacks using Meltdown.
Protecting a Windows PC is complicated right now, and there’s still a lot of unknowns. Microsoft, Google, and Mozilla are all issuing patches for their browsers as a first line of defense. Firefox 57 (the latest) includes a fix, as do the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Edge for Windows 10. Google says it will roll out a fix with Chrome 64, which is due to be released on January 23rd. Apple has not commented on how it plans to fix its Safari browser or even macOS. Chrome, Edge, and Firefox users on Windows won’t really need to do much apart from accept the automatic updates to ensure they’re protected at the basic browser level.
For Windows itself, this is where things get messy. Microsoft has issued an emergency security patch through Windows Update, but if you’re running third-party antivirus software then it’s possible you won’t see that patch yet. Security researchers are attempting to compile a list of antivirus software that’s supported, but it’s a bit of mess, to say the least.
Here’s a quick step-by-step checklist to follow for now:
These steps only currently provide protection against Meltdown, the more immediate threat of the CPU flaws. Spectre is still largely an unknown, and security researchers are advising that it’s more difficult to exploit than Meltdown.