The end of 2017 saw a rather disturbing pair of vulnerabilities emerge that affect a large number of PCs and Macs. They emerged at the processor level, meaning multiple steps are required to mitigate the vulnerability.
The threats have been named Spectre and Meltdown – the most pressing of these is Meltdown, and affects all Intel chips as well as a handful of ARM chips. Fixes are being applied at multiple levels: the browser, Windows (and macOS) and within the chip’s own internal firmware.
Spectre affects all chips – even AMD ones – but is an emerging threat that at present has yet to be exploited.
How can you be sure whether your processor is affected by either – or both – threats? Ashampoo’s standalone tool promises to keep things simple. Download and launch the program, then click ‘Start security check’. Wait a few seconds and the results will be shown.
Note, Windows 7 and 8 users may need to first install the Windows Management Framework 5.1 to install or update Powershell to the required version. Windows 8.1 and 10 users should have no need for either.
Once the test is run, the results are straightforward enough. If you have an Intel or ARM chip, the results are likely to be a pair of red exclamation marks and “Your processor is vulnerable!” AMD users will be flagged for the Spectre vulnerability, but not the Meltdown one.
The ‘More info’ link provides a web page with additional information about the vulnerabilities, but no practical advice. You’ll need to visit your manufacturer’s support pages where you should find instructions on what to do next to resolve the hardware side of the vulnerability, which involves installing a firmware update via a BIOS update.
Note, modern motherboards will be fixed first, but the fate for older chipsets remains uncertain – Intel has only promised to release microcode updates for "90%" of CPUs that are five years old or newer, but some manufacturers may not bother to support older processors: Asus recently stated it would only support chipsets going back three years, for example. You may need to keep checking back regularly to see if a fix has been released.