Protecting Against Spectre 1.1 and 1.2

Earlier this month, 2 security researchers disclosed details of 2 further vulnerabilities within Intel and ARM CPUs that have been named Spectre  1.1 (CVE-2018-3693) and 1.2 (no CVE at this time).

If an attacker exploited these vulnerabilities what would be the outcome?
Fortunately while these vulnerabilities potentially affect billions of CPUs, they rely on an attacker already having access to an affected computer system in order to exploit them. If exploited by an attacker Spectre 1.1 allows an them to retrieve data (which may include sensitive data) from previously secured CPU memory segments by allowing the writing of an execution of malicious code as a result of overflowing (defined) these memory segments.

For Spectre 1.2; exploitation allows normally read only CPU memory segments to be written over. In more detail, the security researchers describe the effects of this as follows “In a Spectre1.2 attack, speculative stores are allowed to overwrite read-only data, code pointers, and code metadata, including vtables, GOT/IAT, and control-flow mitigation metadata. As a result, sandboxing that depends on hardware enforcement of read-only memory is rendered ineffective.”

How can I protect myself from these vulnerabilities?
For ARM CPUs mainly found in smartphones and other smart devices; ARM’s security advisory provides guidance on determining if you have a vulnerable CPU and which vendor to refer to if your CPU is found to be vulnerable.

For Intel CPUs, at this time they are advising to continue to check with the vendors of the operating system for the affected device with the Intel CPU e.g. Apple macOS, Linux and Microsoft.

While such updates are not yet available; in the meantime please continue to exercise standard vigilance; e.g. don’t click on suspicious links received within emails, social media, via chat applications etc. Don’t open attachments you weren’t expecting within an email (even if you know the person; since their email account or device they access their email may have been compromised) and download updates for your software and devices from trusted sources e.g. the software/device vendors.

I will update this post as more information on these vulnerabilities becomes available and as they are resolved by affected vendors.

Thank you.

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