The Spectre exploit — a dangerous, fundamental flaw built into the system architecture of nearly every computer on the planet — has been, to put it mildly, a real headache. Hardest hit has been chipmaker Intel, which has hastily tried to patch up holes in its processors (though AMD and ARM chips are also affected).
The problem is, those patches from Intel were causing, perhaps, more problems than they solved. Some were causing machines to suddenly shut down unexpectedly. Intel even slipped info that these firmware updates could lead to “data loss or corruption” in its latest financial reporting. For now, Intel is actually asking that users refrain from updating any firmware while further testing is carried out.
Microsoft machines — which, by a vast majority, run on Intel processors — have been caught in a bind. It first rushed to release a patch for Intel chips, but the results were causing machines running Windows to shut down unexpectedly. So it’s taken the highly unusual step of issuing another out-of-cycle update, this one disabling protection against Spectre variant 2.
Your PC machine won’t bug you to update here; you’ll need to install the update manually via the Windows Update catalogue. It may seem odd to recommend that you download a patch that actually removes protection against one of the biggest exploits discovered in recent memory, but that’s what I’d recommend Windows users do today.
To be clear: Downloading this patch won’t make you safe from Spectre exploits. The main thing keeping you safe is — unless you run a huge server farm or are extremely famous or rich (in which case: Let’s be friends — hit me up on Twitter) — that you are far too small a fish for anyone to bother with. The Spectre exploit takes a lot of time and resources to really penetrate a system. The lack of value in what you carry on your machine is the best protection you have.