Week ahead: World grapples with critical computer flaws

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The technology industry and organizations worldwide are reeling from the disclosure of two critical computer hardware vulnerabilities that affect scores of modern devices from PCs to smartphones.

Details about the computer processor flaws nicknamed “Meltdown” and “Spectre” came into full focus over the past week and sent programmers at major software companies racing to quickly issue patches to protect affected systems.

The issue was initially believed to only affect Intel processors but actually affects a variety of chip vendors. Intel’s stock dropped Thursday as a result of the revelations.

Microsoft, Google and others have issued emergency patches for their systems, though experts say that applying the fixes could considerably slow down operations. Apple confirmed Thursday that the vulnerabilities affect all iPhones, iPads and Mac computers and said the company was releasing patches to mitigate both vulnerabilities.


Still, experts warn that fully eliminating the threat of Spectre will ultimately warrant a full-fledged redesign of the hardware to boost security.

The revelations are expected to create hurdles for businesses and governments large and small, as organizations rush to make sure their systems are patched and the vulnerabilities cannot be exploited.

James Norton, a former Department of Homeland Security official and cybersecurity expert, said he would expect the Trump administration to issue guidance to expedite patching across agencies.

“The country witnessed the devastating impacts of not implementing security patching with the massive [Office of Personnel Management] hack a few years ago,” Norton said.

The coming week is sure to bring further speculation about the congressional and federal investigations into Russian interference.

The New York Times reported late Thursday that special counsel Robert Mueller has discovered that President Trump tried to prevent Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the investigation even as public pressure mounted for him to do so. Mueller is said to be exploring the issue of obstruction of justice.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have been focusing their attention on anti-Trump text messages exchanged by FBI agents who had been working on the Mueller investigation. The messages were recently uncovered by a Justice Department inspector general probe and have fueled GOP charges of political bias at the FBI and on Mueller’s team.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said he reached a deal with the Justice Department this week for access to documents and interviews related to the messages after sending a terse letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Nunes says the documents and interviews are part of a broader effort by Republicans to investigate the controversial Steele dossier that contains salacious allegations about Trump and Russia.

Off Capitol Hill, the independent Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is hosting a summit on Wednesday on the 2018 midterm elections that is likely to delve into the issue of voting system cybersecurity. There have been efforts in Congress to pass legislation to help state and local officials shore up their systems in the wake of Russia’s efforts to target state voting systems, but none have yet proven fruitful.


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Tags cybersecurity Devin Nunes Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Meltdown Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein Spectre Vulnerability Week ahead
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