Meltdown & Spectre: Update Everything

There are two big computer vulnerabilities that were announced recently, Spectre and Meltdown attacks. These are significant because they affect almost every desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet, and game console. Almost anything with a processor can be exploited to give attackers passwords and whatever other private information is on a device.

The attacks work because of the way that computer processors attempt to speculatively work ahead of their current point in executing a computer program. My understanding is that even code executed in your web browser could execute these attacks.

There are already patches available through Apple operating systems, Microsoft’s Windows, some Android devices, and many Linux operating systems.

The workarounds that operating systems are implementing may slow these devices down because the attacks utilize performance features of the processors, but the performance effects of the mitigation might not be noticeable outside of specific workloads.

Bruce Schneier:

These aren’t normal software vulnerabilities, where a patch fixes the problem and everyone can move on. These vulnerabilities are in the fundamentals of how the microprocessor operates.

It shouldn’t be surprising that microprocessor designers have been building insecure hardware for 20 years. What’s surprising is that it took 20 years to discover it. In their rush to make computers faster, they weren’t thinking about security. They didn’t have the expertise to find these vulnerabilities. And those who did were too busy finding normal software vulnerabilities to examine microprocessors. Security researchers are starting to look more closely at these systems, so expect to hear about more vulnerabilities along these lines.

Windows 10 Game Mode Doesn’t Sound Very Effective

Rock Paper Shotgun’s Alec Meer interviewed Microsoft’s Kevin Gammill about the upcoming Game Mode in Windows 10:

Kevin Gammill: With the Creator’s Update and Game Mode right now, we’re primarily focused on biasing the game versus the rest of the operating system, from a GPU and CPU perspective. So for some of the other system resources, we can get into a roadmap discussion on the next call, but really right now Game Mode is about biasing the game from a GPU perspective so it gets more of the cycles if it’s in the foreground, and from a CPU perspective both biasing to get more CPU cycles as well as avoiding what I’ll call thread contention for the game.

At any time a user can call up the Game Bar and enable Game Mode for any title or game they would like. That’s kind of option one. And then at the same time we will have what we call kind of an approved list or whitelist of games that we feel super-comfortable about and we want to enable out of the gate.

Kind of the way I look at it is that any increase is a benefit, without question. Even it’s as low as, say, a 2% increase in framerate, if you’re running a hundred frames per second, I will take those extra two frames per second without question.

This is a strategy for getting gamers to switch to Windows 10 and use the built-in game bar overlay for a possible 2% increase in framerate, or a slightly more stable framerate overall. A framerate increase at all is very unlikely, because driver developers at Nvidia and AMD are already very focused on that. I wish the interview addressed the system rebooting in the middle of a game for updates, because that is a real problem for people playing games on Windows today.

Even Thurrott Is Frustrated With The Windows 10 Upgrade Scheme

Paul Thurrott:

Last week, Microsoft silently changed Get Windows 10 yet again. And this time, it has gone beyond the social engineering scheme that has been fooling people into inadvertently upgrading to Windows 10 for months. This time, it actually changed the behavior of the window that appears so that if you click the “Close” window box, you are actually agreeing to the upgrade. Without you knowing what just happened.

Previously, closing this window would correctly signal that you do not want the upgrade. So Microsoft didn’t change the wording in the window. It didn’t make an “Upgrade now” button bigger, or a non-existent “don’t ever upgrade” button smaller. It pulled a switcheroonie. It’s like going out to your car in the morning and discovering that the gas pedal now applies the brakes, while the brake pedal washes the windshield. Have a fun commute!

The violation of trust here is almost indescribable. It’s bad enough that Microsoft has been training Windows 7 and 8.1 users–i.e. most Windows users–to not trust Windows 10 because of this horrible, unstoppable advertisement. But now they will not trust their own sanity because all they’ll remember is that they dismissed the advertisement by clicking the Close windows box. Why on earth did Windows 10 just install on my PC?!?

House of the Dying Sun in Early Access

Developed by one human, House of the Dying Sun is a tactical space shooter in the spirit of Freespace 2 and Tie Fighter mixed with a bit of Warhammer 40k styled lore. I love killing traitors to the emperor!

It’s only available for Windows, currently, but does support the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift in addition to regular monitors. You can buy it directly from the developer’s Humble widget or on Steam. Either way it’s 2 bucks off until the 14th of June.

Regular Human Basketball

Powerhoof, the creators of Crawl, put out Regular Human Basketball back at the end of May 2015 and I just found out about it:

It’s local multiplayer, for 2-10 players, and it really is an explosively ordinary game of basketball, with absolutely nothing weird going on and DEFINITELY no giant robotic death machines!

It looks very fun and regular humans can freely download it on itch.io for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Definitely don’t download it if you’re a giant robotic death machine.