With the Spectre and Meltdown chip flaws still casting a long shadow on the security of almost every modern computer out there, hardware and software vendors have been scrambling to issue patches and fixes to protect consumers from the inevitable exploits and threats.
While the quick deployment of the fixes is commendable given the urgency of the flaws, it hasn’t really been smooth sailing for most of the rushed security updates. Let’s just say that the mitigations and fixes deployed by the various vendors so far are “patchy” at best.
Intel’s own Spectre/Meltdown fixes were so problematic – causing computers to randomly reboot and even lose data, that the company has urged users to skip them entirely until further notice. Microsoft’s chip flaw update was also so inconsistent that it was causing PCs to crash and be rendered unbootable.
To counteract these issues, Microsoft has just issued another emergency fix for Windows systems and you probably won’t like what it actually does.
Microsoft emergency patch
If your Windows machine has been randomly rebooting due to the Spectre/Meltdown patches, Microsoft has a “fix” for you. Well, sort of.
Microsoft has released a new out-of-band emergency patch for Windows systems and guess what it does? To protect against random reboots brought on by the Intel patch, this update actually disables protection against Spectre variant 2.
Yep, a patch that disables another patch. Lovely.
Microsoft said that during their testing of the Intel’s Spectre patch, they found that the system instability caused by “higher than expected reboots and other unpredictable system behavior” brought by the patch can cause data loss or corruption.
So to protect users from reboots and data loss, Microsoft issued an emergency update to disable Intel’s protection against “branch target injection” (CVE-2017-5715), specifically meant to address Spectre Variant 2.
It’s not totally an all-or-nothing fix, though. Advanced users who would rather have Spectre Variant 2 protection can still manually enable it via a new registry setting. This means that if your system is not impacted by the random shutdowns, you can still apply the emergency patch and re-enable the Spectre protections manually.
This new Microsoft emergency patch is available for Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 via the Microsoft Update Catalog. For now, you’ll have to manually download and install it.
Well, since Intel’s Spectre patch is a dud, we’ll just have to wait until another update is deployed. The company stated that it has already identified the issues that are causing the random reboots. It is currently developing another patch that will provide protection minus the system-breaking bugs.
Until then, if your Windows machine is impacted by the reboot bug caused by the Intel patch, grab this update now. You won’t have Spectre Variant 2 protection for now but at least your Windows machine will not flake out on you when you least expect it.
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