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Meltdown and Spectre: Beware of Cyber Heartbreakers

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Valentine’s Day has many people thinking of romance. Just as finding someone special has morphed from trips to the malt shop to swiping left or right, navigating the web safely has become just as precarious.

Computer security experts recently discovered two new security gaps called Meltdown and Spectre that could allow hackers to steal personal information and passwords. These vulnerabilities exist in the hardware (CPUs) of most of the world’s computers and mobile devices and could be an especially nasty threat to cloud networks where different customers share the same server space.

Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Android and Google have already issued patches to fix the problem, but researchers say these fixes could slow down your computer by as much as 30%. In a statement on January 3, however, Intel responded that “any performance impacts are workload-dependent and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time.”

Why is my computer vulnerable?
Coffee shop baristas seek to provide faster service by remembering the orders of their regular customers. When Amy-half-caf-Latte pulls into the parking lot, they start preparing her drink before she walks in the door. But what happens if Amy orders drip instead?

Similarly, to speed up routine tasks, computers try to predict what you are going to do next using a process called speculative execution. Processors access stored data in order to execute quickly on different tasks. The computer then dumps the data for the unused tasks into a temporary, unprotected cache. Hackers could exploit this vulnerability and steal the information stored there.

How can I protect myself?
According to David Glod, vice president of information security at Mountain America Credit Union, end users can protect their information by taking certain precautions:

  1. Keep your software, browsers and applications updated on your devices so they will be protected by current patches.

  2. Avoid unknown or shady websites. Hackers can exploit these sites.

  3. Watch out for phishing emails with attachments or links that could infect your computer or mobile device. 

  4. Download and install apps only from trusted sources.

Interrupting work or play to install an update can be inconvenient, but security patches are the best shield against these threats. Check for updates regularly to protect your information from hackers.

Mountain America works hard to make sure you’re protected. If you have any questions about activity on your account, a social media post from us or any other suspicious communication, don’t hesitate to contact us. We can help! For additional information, check out our website pages for online security and fraud.


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