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 WaldenMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Hillicon Valley: Schumer questions Army over use of TikTok | Federal court rules against random searches of travelers' phones | Groups push for election security funds in stopgap bill | Facebook's new payment feature | Disney+ launch hit by glitches Retirements pose threat to cybersecurity expertise in Congress 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 BlackburnTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed MORE (R-Tenn.)  — is just the latest example of lawmakers' concern over the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities.

Rep. Jerry McNerneyGerlad (Jerry) Mark McNerneyDemocrats demand FCC act over leak of phone location data Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Lawmakers grow impatient for FDA cannabis rules 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.