What are the Meltdown and Spectre exploits?

There is lots of information circulating about the new exploits of computer chips from Intel and others announced in the past few days. Some of it has been accurate, and some has been sensationalist and overblown. There is much technical information with high level of details available for both Meltdown and Spectre, so I won’t get into a lot of technical detail here. Rather, I’ll focus on the higher-level issues affecting business and personal computer users.

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First, to be clear, these exploits affect all the major computer chip architectures. The major chip makers — AMD, ARM and Intel — have decided to work together to mitigate the potential effects of a common enemy that affects most modern computer chips — a good sign for future industry collaboration. And all the major software vendors of Linux, Microsoft for Windows, Apple for macOS, and virtualization software suppliers such as VMware and Citrix have all collaborated to mitigate this threat.

But what are the threats? There are potentially three different threats exposed in the disclosure, collectively described by Meltdown and Spectre.

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