Meltdown, Spectre, and what they mean for Linux users


© Lead Image © Natalia Lukiyanova,

© Lead Image © Natalia Lukiyanova,

Article from Issue 211/2018

The blatant security holes known as Meltdown and Spectre, which are built into the computer hardware, are likely to keep us busy for the next few years. How is the Linux community addressing this unexpected challenge?

The year 2018 began with a disaster for IT: We learned that most processors sold in the last 15 years come with two blatant bugs that make our systems vulnerable. The vulnerabilities, named Meltdown and Spectre, mainly affect CPUs of the market leader Intel, but related problems are also present in Apple, AMD, PowerPC, and ARM64 processors. (To the relief of makers around the world, the all-clear has been issued for all Raspberry Pi models.)

These security gaps, which are largely a result of the race for increasingly faster computers, will persist for a very long time and can only be completely eliminated with a new generation of CPUs – probably years in the future. Kernel developers will have to deal with the vulnerabilities that are opening up on PCs, smartphones, and even cloud service for a long time to come. With smartphones and tablets, only owners of currently supported devices can hope to eliminate the vulnerabilities; older devices remain unprotected.

In addition to the vulnerabilities that became known in January, security researchers published further attack scenarios [1] on February 14th. The previous software patches probably also cover these new attack vectors, but for Intel, this means that the changes to the CPU blueprints developed so far must be scrapped, and the engineers have to go back to the drawing board.


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