Dealing with Spectre & Meltdown

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So, what is the problem with Meltdown and Spectre and why is everyone in the world so worried about this new attack? The world seems to be going crazy around what this latest breach has discovered. Most people cannot figure out why it is such a big deal or if it will impact them.

It is not the end of the world; however, it is also not something to think is not a big problem. For years now (over 20) this problem has existed, and just now this exploit has been found. But why was it not as big of a deal before, shouldn’t we have known about it? In a way we did, but not until now has it become a problem. We have been putting more and more data in the cloud and that is why this is such a big deal.

What is this and how does it work, the easiest way to explain it can be done by a cartoon I recently saw on xkcd.com:

To most people this issue is not a real problem, to make this exploit work they would still need to access your computer, this would be done in the typical fashion via a virus or phishing. In the event that they are using this it is more likely that they are trying to get other information, not use this processor exploit.

So, how can you stop something that is basically the modern equivalent to a biblical plague? You just follow standard procedures and make sure that your computer is patched as much as possible, that you have up to date virus definitions and follow the standard operating procedures that your organization has put into place to mitigate breach attempts.

As for all the big cloud companies, by weeks end 90% of the effected computers will be patched or will have a patch available. Google cloud claims to be 100% patched at this time (as they found the exploit, this writer would hope they did) as for Microsoft and Amazon they are doing rolling emergency updates to all their datacenters worldwide and should be done by weeks end. Cloud providers are pushing the updates and notifying users that they may incur some down time. For software as a service (SaaS) such as Google apps and Office 365 these services are not affected by the virus as there is no way for anyone to get to the processors that run those SaaS applications.

In this case storing data in SaaS applications such as SharePoint mitigates the problem and actually has made the data more secure by keeping it in the cloud. As on-premise or a cloud server running an actual operating system leaves it vulnerable to these attacks.

Servers on-premise should be patched as soon as the patches are available, however cloud service providers such as Microsoft and Amazon have been able to force patches to all of their datacenters much quicker that most IT organizations or professionals could. Being in the cloud still is a safe and secure way to handle cloud computing and takes the risk out of these major attacks by handing over these critical security updates to the vendors while giving you peace of mind.

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