This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Silicon Valley is abuzz about “Meltdown” and “Spectre” — new ways for hackers to attack Intel, AMD, and ARM processors that were first discovered by Google last year and publicly disclosed Jan. 3.

Meltdown and Spectre, which take advantage of the same basic security vulnerability in those chips, could hypothetically be used by malicious actors to “read sensitive information in the system’s memory such as passwords, encryption keys, or sensitive information open in applications,” as Google puts it in a blog post.

The first thing you need to know: Pretty much every PC, laptop, tablet, and smartphone is affected by the security flaw, regardless of which company made the device or which operating system it runs. The vulnerability isn’t easy to exploit — it requires a specific set of circumstances, including having malware already running on the device — but it’s not just theoretical.

And the problem could affect much more than

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