House Energy and Commerce demands answers on Spectre and Meltdown cyber flaws

House Energy and Commerce demands answers on Spectre and Meltdown cyber flaws
© Greg Nash

House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders are demanding answers from major technology companies affected by the Spectre and Meltdown cybersecurity flaws that leave computer chips vulnerable to hackers. 

In a letter, lawmakers pressed the CEOs of Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, AMD and ARM to explain the need for an "information embargo" agreement between the companies to keep information on the cybersecurity vulnerabilities from the public.

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“While we acknowledge that critical vulnerabilities such as these create challenging trade-offs between disclosure and secrecy, as premature disclosure may give malicious actors time to exploit the vulnerabilities before mitigations are developed and deployed, we believe that this situation has shown the need for additional scrutiny regarding multi-party coordinated vulnerability disclosures,” the letter reads.

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The letter — signed by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHouse Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access Here are the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats on the Equality Act MORE (R-Ore.), Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Gregg HarperGregory (Gregg) Livingston HarperCongress sends bill overhauling sexual harassment policy to Trump's desk Dems cry foul in undecided N.C. race Mississippi New Members 2019 MORE (R-Miss.), Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio), and Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnOn The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump Hillicon Valley: Google delays cutting off Huawei | GOP senators split over breaking up big tech | Report finds DNC lagging behind RNC on cybersecurity MORE (R-Tenn.)  — is just the latest example of lawmakers' concern over the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities.

Rep. Jerry McNerneyGerlad (Jerry) Mark McNerneyTrump’s clean power plan replacement is exactly what the coal industry needs House Dems press FCC chairman for answers on false cyberattack claim Overnight Energy: Poll finds majority oppose Trump offshore drilling plan | Senators say Trump endorsed ethanol deal | Automaker group wants to keep increasing efficiency standards MORE (D-Calif.) wrote his own letter to Intel, AMD and ARM earlier in January, probing the matter as well. 

Intel said that it's already begun to engage lawmakers on the chip vulnerabilities. 

"We appreciate the questions from the Energy and Commerce Committee and welcome the opportunity to continue our dialogue with Congress on these important issues," an Intel spokesperson said. "In addition to our recent meetings with legislative staff members, we have been discussing with the Committee an in-person briefing, and we look forward to that meeting."

Researchers have called the flaws, which were revealed early this year, some of the worst computer processor vulnerabilities to date. The Department of Homeland Security and Intel have both said they’re not aware of anyone having successfully exploited the vulnerability yet.

The companies kept Spectre and Meltdown under wraps after first discovering them over the summer in an attempt to create and issue software updates before hackers discovered and could exploit the vulnerabilities. 

The companies planned to make knowledge of the cybersecurity flaw public on Jan 9, but news of the vulnerabilities was leaked to the media. 

Chipmakers like AMD, Intel and ARM have since issued patches to mitigate the issue, however, some of the updates have led to hindered device performance.

Experts believe that despite patches, the issue will only fully be resolved after the affected computer and phone hardware has been replaced.

This story was updated at 4:11 p.m.