The Azure Response to the Recent Meltdown/Spectre Intel Security Vulnerability

In case you hadn’t heard, Intel recently revealed on January 3, 2018 two critical vulnerabilities they found in Intel chips. These vulnerabilities allow cyber-attackers to steal data from the memory of running apps. This data can include passwords, emails, photos, or documents. Intel has dubbed them as “Meltdown” and “Spectre.” Just when you thought that wasn’t scary enough, they revealed that these chips run in “almost every system” since 1995. This includes computers as well as phones.

Since then tech giants have been hard at work developing patches to seal these data holes, especially with their cloud services. Microsoft released a patch for Azure the very next day, Google went into overtime to protect their users’ data, and both with Amazon scheduled downtime to patch their cloud services.

Microsoft’s Response Time for Azure

Microsoft Azure is a shared-computing environment by default. One server hosts applications and development of applications, and various Virtual Machines tap into the server to allow employees to and others to access these applications. As such, the Meltdown vulnerability allows an attacker to compromise the host and read all the data from every operating system tapping into it.

Since Microsoft is both a large hardware consumer and software vendor, Intel notified them of Meltdown and Spectre before it went public. If your business noticed a sudden scheduled maintenance warning for Azure on December 28th, this was why. In other words, Microsoft was able to develop a patch for these vulnerabilities in less than a week’s time.

If that doesn’t sound impressive, consider the following. Around 3-10 million physical servers host Azure, and these servers in turn host tens of millions of Virtual Machines. Microsoft was able to patch all of these systems in under a week. They were able to do so because one fact: Azure is a cloud-based application. Thanks to the cloud, Microsoft could focus their security team to work on the cloud servers and only the cloud servers. This way, these millions of servers and users had a patch in nearly no time at all.

As a result, all applications hosted on the Azure cloud-platform were immediately protected. Your business doesn’t need a stronger case to move to Azure cloud services than this.

Does This Mean Azure is Safe?

For now, yes, Azure is safe from these particular attacks. However, malware developers aren’t shaking their fists in the air and abandoning hope just yet. German antivirus testing firm AV-Test has found 139 samples of malware trying to attack the Meltdown vulnerability in January alone. The malware is trying to do one of two things:

  • exploit a vulnerability that wasn’t patched out; or
  • exploit those who haven’t installed the patch at all.

Microsoft patched their cloud servers, but non-Azure users (as well as all Windows users, period) still need to apply their operating system patches to ensure complete protection. This is one vulnerability you definitely don’t want cyber-attackers to exploit, whether it’s your personal computer or your business’s server.

Have questions about Azure and/or Azure security for your company? Contact us today!

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