We urge our clients to update their software

Safeguard your business from Meltdown and Spectre

Security experts scrambled last week to try to reassure computer users worldwide that a newly discovered type of security flaw can be managed through the simple act of updating software with patches that technology companies have been frantically developing for months.

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This relatively soothing message comes against a backdrop of alarm within the technology industry, which has been stunned to discover that the microchips powering nearly every computer and smartphone have for years carried fundamental flaws that can be exploited by hackers and yet cannot be entirely fixed.

The flaws, announced last week and dubbed Meltdown and Spectre, flow from designs that allowed computers to operate more quickly and efficiently. Though it's not clear whether hackers have exploited these flaws, security experts say attacks would be relatively easy to develop and could allow the theft of private information such as passwords, credit card numbers, private corporate data and other information stored in computers or smartphones. Such attacks, the experts add, would likely not leave any trace that could be detected.

"This is the most significant security news we've had in the last 10 years," said Avi Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University specialising in health-care security. "Some of the mitigations are going to be extremely expensive. I think this is the real deal."

The government's Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert NZ) says people should make sure software on their devices is up-to-date after a design flaw in most processing chips was made public last week.