Meltdown Spectre Vulnerabilities
Richard Hutchings

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Richard Hutchings: Chief Technology Officer at Littlefish

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Meltdown & Spectre Security Vulnerabilities


You will have no doubt read this morning that two separate security flaws have been discovered by security analysts which potentially impact a large number of devices. Although these vulnerabilities are chipset related, they are officially defined as two separate vulnerabilities – known now as Meltdown and Spectre;

  • The Meltdown vulnerability affects laptops, desktop computers and internet servers with Intel chips.
  • The Spectre vulnerability potentially has a wider reach as it affects chips in smartphones, tablets and computers powered by Intel, ARM and AMD processors.

Littlefish is currently liaising with the major vendors (Microsoft, Apple, and Google) to gain a better understanding of the vulnerabilities and their anticipated security updates/solutions. At this stage the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have stated that there was no evidence that the vulnerabilities have been exploited, however a key aspect here is to ensure that your security products are all up to date on both end-user and server platforms (Littlefish will continue to do this for customers across supported devices) and that your users remain vigilant when receiving emails or web browsing.


How Do Meltdown & Spectre work?

Meltdown & Spectre both exploit critical vulnerabilities in modern processors on personal computers, tablets, mobile devices and in the cloud, that allow access to data being processed by the computer. Malicious programmes are able to access data stored in other running applications – potentially including passwords, personal data and critical business data.



Meltdown Vulnerability Logo

Why is it called Meltdown?

The bug basically melts security boundaries which are normally enforced by the hardware.


About Meltdown

Meltdown was discovered and reported by three independent teams: Daniel Gruss, Moritz Lipp, Stefan Mangard, Michael Schwarz at Graz University of Technology, Werner Haas and Thomas Prescher at Cyberus Technology and Jann Horn at Google Project Zero. Computers with vulnerable processors running unpatched operating systems risk data exposure. By de-isolating user application and operating system and therefore allowing access to arbitrary system memory, malicious programmes can access the memory and therefore data of other running programmes and the operating system itself.


What is the CVE-2017-5754?

CVE-2017-5754 is the official reference to Meltdown. CVE is the Standard for Information Security Vulnerability Names maintained by MITRE.



Spectre Vulnerability Logo


Why is it called Spectre?

The name is based on the root cause, speculative execution. As it is not easy to fix, it will haunt us for quite some time.


About Spectre

Spectre was uncovered by two independent teams: Jann Horn at Google Project Zero and Paul Kocher in collaboration with Daniel Genkin (University of Pennsylvania and University of Maryland), Mike Hamburg (Rambus), Moritz Lipp (Graz University of Technology), and Yuval Yarom (University of Adelaide and Data61). Harder to exploit but also harder to mitigate than Meltdown, Spectre risks data exposure from programmes that follow security best practise (best practices in fact make programmes more susceptible). By de-isolating applications from one another, Spectre tricks applications into accessing arbitrary memory locations, allowing attackers to force programmes to reveal data.


What are CVE-2017-5753 and CVE-2017-5715?

CVE-2017-5753 and CVE-2017-5715 are the official references to Spectre. CVE is the Standard for Information Security Vulnerability Names maintained by MITRE.


The Extent Of The Risk

Meltdown potentially affects every Intel processor implementing out-of-order-execution – the majority of processors since 1995 – including desktop, laptop and cloud computers. Spectre has an even wider footprint – affecting almost every system from smartphone and tablets, to desktops, laptops and even cloud servers. With no traces left in traditional log files, you’re unlikely to detect if someone has exploited either vulnerability against you.


Is there a workaround/fix?

There are patches against Meltdown for Linux (KPTI (formerly KAISER)), Windows, and OS X. There is also work to harden software against future exploitation of Spectre, respectively to patch software after exploitation through Spectre.


Which cloud providers are affected by Meltdown?

Cloud providers which use Intel CPUs and Xen PV as virtualization without having patches applied. Furthermore, cloud providers without real hardware virtualization, relying on containers that share one kernel, such as Docker, LXC, or OpenVZ are affected.


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