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Linux isn't immune

Posted on 14/03/2018 by Gustavo Padovan

The recent disclosure of Meltdown and Spectre hardware vulnerabilities were unprecedented in the history of computing. They affect a substantial portion of chips powering most of the infrastructure used by our society today.

While software vulnerabilities can be easily repaired with an update, it is a completely different story when it comes to hardware, and the Linux Kernel community had a hard time dealing with them.

The mitigation for Meltdown came in the form of a fundamental change of the kernel memory management through the kernel page-table isolation (KPTI) patch set merged in 4.15-rc6, which isolates the kernel page table from the userspace page table.

Spectre, on the other hand, is much harder to fix, and while initial mitigation exists, more elegant and efficient solutions are yet to be developed. As its name says, Spectre may still haunt us for quite some time.

These issues may be just the first of their kind but they are already causing all of us to be exposed. Too many service providers and product companies have failed and will continue to fail at patching their kernels.

Shifting all industries and sectors toward following the mainline Linux kernel closely is more crucial than ever.

(Originally published in Linux Format magazine, Issue 234, January 2018)

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