A pair of new security vulnerabilities have been discovered in computer processors made by Intel, AMD and ARM by security researchers at Google.
The bugs affect the hardware of the CPUs themselves – so all computer users are affected, whether they run Windows or macOS on a Dell or an Apple Macbook. Potentially, they could let hackers access personal information stored on the device – such as account passwords.
In fact, the two new flaws – which have been named Meltdown and Spectre – stretch back years.
According to Daniel Gruss, one of the researchers at Graz University of Technology who worked with Google to discover the flaw called Meltdown “probably one of the worst CPU bugs ever found”.
Microsoft and Apple are working with Google to offer patches for their respective operating systems in an effort to limit the damage.
Meanwhile, the Spectre threat affects processors made by Intel, AMD and ARM and predominantly affects mobile devices like tablets and smartphones.
Although it doesn’t appear that any malicious exploits have taken place yet, hackers will now be aware of the danger and will start using it to their advantage.
Because of the sheer number of CPUs that are affected, there’s a very high chance your PC could be at risk.
The computer experts at Which? have put together the vital information you need to know about how this could affect your computer.
Which chips are affected?
If you’re using an Intel-powered computer produced in the past 10 years, then it’s likely your device is at risk. All Intel chips, from low-powered Celeron and Atom ranges right up to the latest 8th-gen Intel i7 processors have the same fundamental design flaw.
These chips come packed into millions of Windows PCs, Macs and Linux computers worldwide.
How can I find out which processor my computer has?
On Windows PCs, your processor type is listed under your System Properties.
To open this, click Start and type system into the search box, then click the System or System information link that appears.
If you don’t see a search box, this means you’re probably using Windows XP.
To check your processor type, click Start, then right-click My Computer and select Properties.
On a Mac, click the Apple menu (top-left of your screen) then select About this Mac from the drop-down menu.
What can I do about the Intel problem?
It’s important to install any new operating system updates that are released.
These will be security patches from your operating system manufacturer to address the issue. A release has already been created to solve the issue in some versions of Linux. But, the vast majority of consumers worldwide use Windows or Mac systems.
Updates are expected imminently from Microsoft and Apple. Don’t put off installing system and security updates – they’re an essential step to keeping your computer secure.
Will the fix slow down my computer?
It’s been reported that the system updates required to address the Intel chip issue could potentially slow down a computer’s operating speed by as much as 30%.
If this proves to be true – and if it’s unavoidable – then this could make a dramatic difference to the day-to-day use of your computer.
The reason for the slowdown is likely to be the fundamental change in the way that Intel’s processors will be able to look up system information and control program and web service access to key parts of the PC. If a more secure, but less efficient workaround is created, this will lead to noticeable slowdown.
If the suggested slowdown proves to be the case, then Intel, and potentially PC manufacturers worldwide, could be left facing a significant consumer backlash and even attempts to seek redress and compensation.
What about the Spectre security problem?
A separate security flaw – named Spectre – has also been identified.
This one doesn’t simply affect Intel-branded processors, but also chips from AMD and ARM. Spectre affects the type of chips used in tablets and smartphones.
ARM suggests a security update has already been released to address the problem, while AMD insists there is ‘near zero risk to AMD products at this time’.
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