Apple confirms iOS and macOS are vulnerable to 'Meltdown' and 'Specter'

Image source Yu Samoilov via flickr

Despite concern that fixes may slow down devices, Apple said its steps to address the Meltdown issue haven't dented performance.

On Wednesday, Alphabet Inc's GOOGL.O Google and other security researchers disclosed two major chip flaws, one called Meltdown affecting only Intel Corp INTC.O chips and one called Spectre affecting almost all computer chips made in the last decade.

A design flaw affecting Intel computer chips is more serious than a computer virus outbreak, according to a New Zealand technology commentator, because the vulnerability is built in and therefore harder to contain.

Current updates to macOS and iOS protect against Meltdown, and Apple is working on providing better protections against Spectre.

Meltdown and Spectre are what are known as exploits, vulnerabilities or weaknesses, even though they are being reported widely as bugs or flaws on central processing units (CPUs), the computer chips at the heart of every PC or smartphone.

Apple has warned owners of its iPhones, iPads and computers that the devices are affected by a processor flaw that could leave them vulnerable to hackers.

In a blog post, Apple said it had released software updates for iOS, its phone and tablets software, macOS, used by its computers, and tvOS for its television products.

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Spectre is an exploit that breaks the isolation between different applications on chips from Intel, AMD and ARM, and potentially allows hackers to "trick" error-free programmes that normally follow best practices into "leaking" their secrets. Ben Johnson, co-founder and chief strategist for cyber security firm Carbon Black, said the delay in updating customers about whether Apple's devices are at risk could affect Apple's drive to get more business customers to adopt its hardware.

Around 90 per cent of PCs are powered by Intel chips.

"Intel continues to believe that the performance impact of these updates is highly workload-dependent and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time", the world's No. 1 chipmaker said in a release. With Safari and virtually all other popular browsers not patched, hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users may have no secure means of browsing the web until Apple issues its patch.

There has been no evidence so far the flaws have been exploited by hackers.

The flaws were discovered by researchers at Google and academic institutions previous year but were kept secret.

Google said Android phones with the most recent security updates are protected, and users of web services like Gmail are also safe.

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