If you pay any attention to technology news, you’ve certainly heard of Meltdown and Spectre. These exploits, both attacking the same core vulnerability, have even received a fair amount of mainstream news coverage. The reason these exploits are receiving so much media coverage is that unlike almost every other computer security issue, the root vulnerability is not located in software but rather in the core hardware of any computing device – the CPU (or more commonly, the “processor”). Practically speaking, because the vulnerability is a flaw in hardware, it is not possible to completely prevent these exploits without replacing the processor. Additionally, almost every processor in every commonly used technology device (computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.) is affected. As bad as this problem sounds, and yes this is a really bad flaw, the practical implications are probably much less frightening for the vast majority of technology users than originally reported.
The first thing to keep in mind is that while the exploits have been given scary sounding names, they are NOT viruses. In other words, there is not an actual attack currently in the wild. So for all the alarms being raised in the media, there is currently no immediate danger. All that was disclosed was the description of the root vulnerability (a security flaw in the design of a CPU’s “speculative execution” feature) and the exploits possible (named Meltdown and Spectre). What the exploits are able to do is read data out of computer memory that is supposed to be protected. Things like passwords and security information that should not be possible to be accessed by ordinary software can be extracted with these exploits.
While the root vulnerability is very serious, actually implementing an attack will require a way to deliver malicious code. In other words, a malware/virus will need to be created to carry out the Meltdown or Spectre exploits. Because any malware attempting to perform a Meltdown or Spectre attack would be able to be mitigated just as any other malware can, standard security precautions should in practice protect most technology users and their data. Additionally, operating system developers have been releasing patches that significantly mitigate the risks from Meltdown and Spectre, making it much harder to actually gather sensitive data with a successful attack. So for systems that have been updated to protect against these new exploits, the risk is greatly reduced. All that being said, however, the disclosure this vulnerability in a key architectural function of the processors we use in all our technology devices should serve as a wake-up call for everyone to review their key security practices.
The key thing to keep in mind is that the more secure your base technology platform is, the more secure you will be from exploits such as Meltdown and Spectre, as well as any malware in general. For example, while the processors used in the iPhone and iPad are technically vulnerable to these exploits, since delivering malware to an iOS device is practically impossible there is almost no risk to these devices. On platforms that are more susceptible to malware (i.e. Windows, Android) continued vigilance to security best practices continues to be an important priority, even more so now.
The bottom line is that for as scary as the Meltdown and Spectre exploits appear to be, they are simply just another vulnerability for criminal malware to take advantage of. True, this particular vulnerability may not be completely fixable until sometime in the future when we are able to purchase new technology devices with redesigned processors, but patches from operating system developers and adequate security precautions should mitigate the risk for most technology users.
If you have any questions about protecting your technology and data, please don’t hesitate to ask me a question!
Part 1: You’re Not the Problem. Old Technology is.
There is no doubt that in the last 10 years, technology has moved faster than ever before. For many people and business owners, this rapid pace of technology development has left them feeling confused and overwhelmed. I am very familiar with the problems that my clients have faced in the last several years trying to keep up with all the new technology. I have identified several tips for users who are looking to thrive and survive in The New World of Technology.
Stop Blaming Yourself
The very first piece of advice I have for you is to stop thinking of yourself as technology “illiterate,” technology “stupid,” or any other such derisive term. Technology should make your life easier, not harder. If you are having difficultly using or understanding your technology, you are probably using the wrong technology! One key trait of New World Technology is increased simplicity user-friendliness. In this day and age there is no reason to continue using frustrating technology.
If you want to thrive and survive in The New World of Technology, you must shift your mindset. Instead of thinking that new technologies are “too smart” for you, understand that new technologies are actually easier to use than ever before. Even though all this new technology is more powerful than ever, a great deal of that power is because it is much easier to use. That ease-of-use has led to many more people using technology than did in the past. If you continue to bury your head in the sand, you will be left behind and you will have no one to blame but yourself.
1990’s Technology? As If.
The year is 2015. You must stop thinking in terms of 1990’s technology. Yes, the Windows PC was the dominant technology for nearly 20 years. For many of us, we “grew up” with that technology so it isn’t surprising we base our world view of technology on this old standby. However, The New World of Technology is dominated by mobile devices and distributed data. If you think that you must sit down at a desk to work with a computer, you are stuck in the 90’s. The New World of Technology allows us to work with our technology and access our data from almost anywhere in the world. Instead of chaining us to our desks or even our offices, today’s technology allows us to be much more flexible with our lives. We can travel more to meet with clients and partners. We can work from home and still be connected with our coworkers. We can even be more free to take time off work because we know we can access data and respond quickly if something urgent comes up.
Getting away from a 1990’s technology mindset also goes hand-in-hand with the ease-of-use I was talking about earlier. A lot of people feel that they want to stick with the tried-and-true Windows PC metaphor because they think that learning new technologies will be hard. Once again, they base their view from their past experiences with technology. Yes, working with a Windows PC was frustrating experience! It still can be even today! But newer technologies are much easier to learn. The learning curves are much smaller. By trying to stick with familiar technologies, many people are doing themselves a disservice. They are inadvertently keeping their technology experience frustrating by not embracing The New World of Technology.
Free Your Mind
To sum up, if you want to thrive and survive in The New World of Technology, you need to stop blaming yourself and get away from old, confusing technology. I can offer many examples of people from old to young who have embraced New World technologies and no longer consider themselves technology “illiterate.” You could be next!
Once you come to grips that you can master newer technologies and let go of the past, come back to read the next article in this series, where I will offer additional tips and advice. As always, if you have any technology related questions, please do not hesitate to ask me anything!