How to Check and Patch Meltdown CPU Vulnerability in Linux?


Released in early 2018, news of a previously unknown hardware vulnerability in Intel's CPUs shocked the IT industry. Dubbed as 'Meltdown,' this exploit can potentially expose sensitive data on your computer such as passwords, encryption keys, and login credentials to hackers. In worst-case scenarios, it could allow attackers to take complete control of your system without leaving any trace of their activity.

Understanding the Meltdown Vulnerability

The Meltdown vulnerability is a security flaw that affects modern processors, including those found in most Linux-based systems. The vulnerability takes advantage of a fundamental feature of modern CPUs known as speculative execution.

This feature allows the CPU to execute tasks before they are confirmed to be necessary, which can result in significant performance improvements. However, it also means that sensitive data may be loaded into memory before it should be, making it vulnerable to attack.

Explanation of how it Works

The Meltdown vulnerability exploits speculative execution by allowing attackers to access memory that they should not have access to. Specifically, an attacker can use this vulnerability to read privileged kernel memory or other sensitive information from other processes running on the same system. This is possible because the processor does not properly check whether the accessed data should be accessible based on the current user's permissions.

The Impact it can Have on Your System

The impact of Meltdown varies depending on the system and types of data being processed. In general, though, an attacker who successfully exploits this vulnerability can potentially gain access to passwords, encryption keys and other sensitive information stored in memory at any given moment.

This poses a significant threat for businesses and individuals alike because it enables attackers to bypass security measures like firewalls and antivirus software. The exploitation of this vulnerability can also degrade system performance significantly because patches designed for mitigating this issue could increase processing overheads.

Checking for Meltdown Vulnerability in Linux

Using Command Line Tools to Check for Vulnerability

To check if your system is affected by the Meltdown vulnerability, you can use a command line tool called "spectre-meltdown-checker". This tool checks whether your system is vulnerable to both Meltdown and Spectre attacks. To install this tool, you can follow the steps below −

  • Open your terminal and log in as root or with sudo privileges.

  • Update your package index by typing −

sudo apt-get update  
  • Install the "spectre-meltdown-checker" package by typing −

sudo apt-get install spectre-meltdown-checker  
  • Once installed, run the command as follows −

sudo spectre-meltdown-checker  

The tool will then scan your system and provide information on whether or not it's vulnerable to the Meltdown vulnerability.

Verifying if Your System is Affected by the Vulnerability

If you prefer a more detailed analysis of your system's vulnerability status, you can use another command line tool called "Meltdown and Spectre Vulnerability Detector (mssss)". This tool performs an in-depth analysis of all available data structures during runtime to detect any possible exploit attempts. To install this tool, follow these steps −

  • Download the source package from its official GitHub repository.

  • Extract the contents of the package −

tar -xf mssss.tar.gz cd mssss/  
  • Compile it using GCC −

gcc -o msss main.c 
./msss -a  

This will compile and execute a detailed detection script that provides results on whether or not your system is affected by both Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities.

By using these tools, you can quickly and easily assess whether your system is vulnerable to Meltdown CPU Vulnerability in Linux. Once you know if your system is vulnerable, you can then take the necessary steps to patch the vulnerability.

Patching Meltdown Vulnerability in Linux

Now that we know how to check if our system is affected by the Meltdown vulnerability, it's time to take action and patch it. There are two ways to do this: either by updating your kernel or applying patches manually.

Updating Your Kernel to a Patched Version

The easiest and most recommended way of patching the Meltdown vulnerability is by updating your kernel. Most major Linux distributions have already released updated kernels with the necessary patches to mitigate the vulnerability. To update your kernel on Ubuntu or Debian-based distros, use the following command −

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade && sudo apt autoremove

This will update all packages on your system, including the kernel and its associated modules. Once the update is complete, reboot your system for the changes to take effect.

Applying Patches Manually to Mitigate the Vulnerability

If for any reason you can't update your kernel or prefer not to, you can still apply patches manually. This method requires more technical knowledge and might be riskier than updating your kernel but can be useful in some scenarios. To apply patches manually, you need first to download and compile them from trusted sources such as official Linux repositories or vendor websites.

Then you must apply them through command line tools such as 'patch' or 'diff' utility. Here's an example of how you could apply a patch in Ubuntu −

wget patch-4.xx.gz | patch -p1 --verbose 

This downloads a patch file from (replace xx with the latest version) then applies it using the patch utility. Once the patches are applied, reboot your system for them to take effect.

Best Practices for Protecting Your System from Future Vulnerabilities

Keeping Your System up-to-date With Security Patches

One of the best ways to protect your Linux system from security vulnerabilities is to keep it up-to-date with the latest security patches. Most Linux distributions come with automatic updates enabled by default, but it's still important to check and make sure that all of your software is updated regularly.

When a new vulnerability is discovered, developers work quickly to create and release a patch. Updating your system as soon as possible after a patch is released helps ensure that you are protected against the latest threats.

Regularly Monitoring and Testing Your System's Security Measures

Another important practice for protecting your Linux system from vulnerabilities is to regularly monitor and test its security measures. This includes things like firewall settings, user permissions, and access controls. By monitoring these settings on a regular basis, you can identify potential vulnerabilities before they are exploited by malicious actors.

Additionally, testing your system's security measures can help identify weaknesses that need to be addressed. It's important to note that monitoring and testing should be an ongoing process rather than something done once or twice a year.

Regularly auditing permissions and reviewing logs can help identify unauthorized access attempts or suspicious activity early on. As part of this process, it's also essential to have strong password policies in place for all users on the system such as password complexity requirements, two-factor authentication, etc.

Keeping your system updated with the latest security patches and regularly monitoring its security measures are essential practices for protecting against future vulnerabilities in Linux systems. By following these best practices consistently over time, you can significantly reduce the risk of exploits on your server network.


In this article, we discussed the Meltdown CPU Vulnerability and its impact on Linux systems. We covered how to check if your system is affected by the vulnerability using command line tools and verified it.

We also discussed patching strategies that can be used to mitigate the Meltdown vulnerability in Linux. Updating your kernel to a patched version or applying patches manually were two approaches we covered.

Updated on: 31-Aug-2023


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