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New ’emergency’ Windows update removes the last one

This is the second time this month Microsoft has issued a Windows update outside of its regular “Patch Tuesday” schedule. The company’s understood to be acting on Intel’s advice to withdraw the existing Spectre patch. The new Windows Update will disable the fixes for the Spectre security flaw, which could put users at risk again but will address the ongoing performance and reliability issues.
According to ZDNet, Microsoft made the highly unusual decision to pull back the patch after ascertaining it can directly cause data loss. It has acted based on Intel’s own admission that data corruption can occur under certain scenarios.
Microsoft told ZDNet it’s now waiting for Intel to release the fixed firmware version after determining “system stability can in some circumstances cause data loss or corruption.” With no known Spectre exploits in the wild, the biggest threat to end user machines has become Intel’s buggy patches.
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For PC users, this is likely to confuse the situation around Meltdown and Spectre even further. Buggy firmware patches, unclear documentation and poor communication with consumers have resulted in Intel facing widespread criticism from across the tech industry. The company last week publicly admitted the reboot issues in a security update but then buried its separate admission about potential data corruption inside its financial results.
AMD has also experienced its own issues, with Microsoft earlier having to withdraw the AMD patches from Windows Update after they bricked machines. With both hardware vendors struggling to develop reliable updates, Microsoft has been forced to take the unprecedented step of issuing multiple emergency Windows patches in an attempt to contain the disruption to end users.
Intel’s still not published a timeframe for when its functioning microcode update will be issued to hardware vendors. Only then will Microsoft and other software providers be able to issue fixes back to consumers. In the meantime, end users, cloud providers and hardware makers are all waiting for Intel.
The new patches expected to properly mitigate against Spectre and Meltdown while preserving overall system reliability. Performance is still likely to be degraded though, with demanding workloads hit the most significantly. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said last week the company will “restore confidence in data security” by delivering “transparent and timely” communication going forward. So far, there’s little evidence to support this claim.

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