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Ubuntu Preps Patches for Meltdown, Spectre CPU Flaws

Ubuntu security updates planned for January 9 will patch the recently disclosed Meltdown and Spectre CPU vulnerabilties, Canonical has announced.

Ubuntu security updates planned for January 9 will patch the recently disclosed Meltdown and Spectre CPU vulnerabilties, Canonical has announced.

Impacting billions of devices around the world, Meltdown and Spectre are two new side-channel attacks targeting CPUs from Intel, AMD and ARM. Residing in the CPU architecture, the flaws impact Windows, MacOS, Linux, and many other operating systems.

The attacks abuse three different flaws and can be leveraged to bypass memory isolation and access sensitive data such as passwords, photos, documents, and emails.

Experts are warning of the risk of remote exploitation of Spectre vulnerabilities in targeted or mass attacks and tech companies such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and others have already revealed plans to address the issues in their products.

On Thursday, Intel announced patches for its CPUs, saying it would address the bugs in 90% of the CPUs produced over the past five years.

Intel is said to have been aware of the vulnerabilities since April 2017, and other companies were informed on the matter a while ago as well, including Canonical, which has been working on fixes for the past couple of months.

According to the company, “essentially every operating system, hardware, and cloud vendor in the world” agreed to a coordinated release date of January 9, 2018, but the news on Meltdown and Spectre broke earlier. However, patches for Ubuntu won’t be available until the planned release date.

“By design, operating system updates would be available at the same time as the public disclosure of the security vulnerability.  While it happens rarely, this an industry standard best practice, which has broken down in this case,” Canonical explains.

Ubuntu 64-bit x86 (aka, amd64) should receive updated kernels by Jan 9, or sooner if possible. The updates will be released for Ubuntu 17.10 (Artful) — Linux 4.13 HWE; Ubuntu 16.04 LTS (Xenial) — Linux 4.4 (and 4.4 HWE); Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (Trusty) — Linux 3.13; and Ubuntu 12.04 ESM (Precise) — Linux 3.2 (an Ubuntu Advantage license is required for the 12.04 ESM kernel update).

In April, Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (Bionic) will ship with a 4.15 kernel, which includes the KPTI patchset as integrated upstream, the company says.

“Ubuntu optimized kernels for the Amazon, Google, and Microsoft public clouds are also covered by these updates, as well as the rest of Canonical’s Certified Public Clouds including Oracle, OVH, Rackspace, IBM Cloud, Joyent, and Dimension Data,” Canonical explains.

The company also warns that a reboot will be required to activate the update, as the kernel fixes are not Livepatch-able. The update includes “hundreds of independent patches, touching hundreds of files and thousands of lines of code,” and the complexity of the patchset is not compatible with the Linux kernel Livepatch mechanism.

Related: Intel Patches CPUs Against Meltdown, Spectre Exploits

Related: Tech Giants Address Critical CPU Vulnerabilities


Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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