The security vulnerabilities discovered in chips manufactured by Intel (and presumably by AMD and ARM) are without a doubt the worst way to begin a new year, especially because patching involves complex steps that users and IT admins alike need to take to remain protected.
While we won’t dissect the actual source of the bug because this topic has already been overly-discussed, it’s important to know that Windows users, regardless of the version they are running, can remain protected by simply patching their system.
And while this is an easy thing to do, patching via Windows Update is only available on Windows 10, with everyone else to be offered the updates automatically next week on Patch Tuesday – this month, Patch Tuesday takes place on January 9, so we’re only a few days away from the beginning of the rollout.
For Windows users who are unable to patch until next week, the same advice as always applies in this case as well. Do not click on links coming from unknown sources by any means, do not download attachments that might include crafted files, and stay away from URLs that you’re not sure they’re legitimate.
Antivirus applications do not guarantee you are protected. While malware taking advantage of the vulnerabilities could indeed be detected and blocked, exploits are said to be harder to distinguish from clean applications running on your system.
Make sure you update your security solutions as soon as possible, but don’t rely entirely on them.
One of the worst things about these vulnerabilities is that you can’t tell if someone hijacked your system, as no traces are left behind. This means an attacker can get inside your computer, steal your passwords, and then leave without you even knowing the whole thing happened.
Windows users who can patch are recommended to do this as fast as possible. While Windows 10 systems are being offered the patch automatically via Windows Update, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 PCs are not.
Below you can find all Meltdown and Spectre patches for Windows (make sure you download the correct version for your system):
One important note concerns antivirus software running on your computer. Microsoft says that only systems with compatible antivirus applications installed are being offered the emergency patches, and the company obviously recommends sticking with Windows Defender.
If antivirus solutions incompatible with the new security updates are installed on the system, users can manually set the following registry key:
Key="HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE" Subkey="SOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionQualityCompat" Value="cadca5fe-87d3-4b96-b7fb-a231484277cc" Type="REG_DWORD”
Microsoft doesn’t provide any further details to name the antivirus products considered to be incompatible, but it says that “during our testing process, we uncovered that some third-party applications have been making unsupported calls into Windows kernel memory that cause stop errors (also known as bluescreen errors) to occur.”
Reboots are required once the updates are installed and you are recommended to manually check whether deployment completed successfully on each system.
Further firmware updates from Intel and other potentially affected vendors are also expected in the coming days.