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IBM Starts Patching Spectre, Meltdown Vulnerabilities

IBM has started releasing firmware patches for its POWER processors to address the recently disclosed Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities. The company is also working on updates for its operating systems, but those are expected to become available only next month.

On January 4, one day after researchers disclosed the Meltdown and Spectre attack methods against Intel, AMD and ARM processors, IBM informed customers that it had started analyzing impact on its own products. On Tuesday, the company revealed that its POWER processors are affected.

IBM told customers that attacks against its Power Systems server line can be fully mitigated only by installing both firmware and operating system patches.

The company has already released firmware patches for its POWER7+ and POWER8 processors, and fixes are expected to become available for POWER9 systems on January 15. Users of earlier products that are still supported will be notified at a later time about the availability of firmware updates.

Users whose devices run Linux can obtain operating system patches from their respective vendors. Red Hat, SUSE and Canonical have already released fixes. As for IBM’s own operating systems, namely AIX and IBM i, patches are expected to become available on February 12.

“If this vulnerability poses a risk to your environment, then the first line of defense is the firewalls and security tools that most organizations already have in place,” IBM explained.

The company has told customers that IBM storage appliances are not impacted by the vulnerabilities.

The mitigations for the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are known to introduce performance penalties for certain types of operations, but IBM has not mentioned anything about performance impact.

Intel says regular users should not see any difference after applying the fixes, but Microsoft’s tests show that most Windows 7 and 8 systems will likely incur significant penalties if they use 2015-era or older CPUs.

In addition to performance penalties, some mitigations also cause problems due to compatibility issues. Microsoft has required security product vendors to set a specific registry key in order for their customers to receive security updates. Furthermore, one of the company’s updates has been found to break computers with some older AMD processors.

Related: Qualcomm Working on Mitigations for Spectre, Meltdown

Related: Lawsuits Filed Against Intel Over CPU Vulnerabilities

Related: Industry Reactions to Meltdown, Spectre Attacks

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Eduard Kovacs is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.