What are Meltdown and Spectre? Here’s what you need to know.

By Jon Masters, chief ARM architect, Red Hat

Recent press reports talk about a newly discovered form of security threat that involves attackers exploiting common features of modern microprocessors (aka chips) that power our computers, tablets, smartphones, and other gadgets. These attacks, known as “Meltdown” and “Spectre”, are getting a lot of attention. People are (rightly) concerned, and it’s of course very important to apply all of the necessary software updates that have been carefully produced and made available. Technology leaders, including Red Hat, are working together to address these exploits and minimize the risk of potential attacks.

At Red Hat, we’ve been working on mitigations for potential attacks under standard industry security embargos, deploying small, targeted teams operating on a “need to know” basis in order to prepare ahead of public disclosure. I was fortunate enough to be co-leading our efforts at mitigation of Meltdown and Spectre, alternatively known as variants 1, 2, and 3 of a family of similar attacks disclosed by Google Project Zero in a blog post on January 3rd. In the course of our efforts, we reproduced Meltdown (variant 3) in our labs, and examined other variants, while working alongside many of our trusted hardware partners on mitigations.

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