Intel CPU Vulnerability Lawsuit MDL To Be Considered By Judicial Panel

A panel of federal judges will hear oral arguments next month over whether lawsuits over Intel CPU security flaws, which may exist in virtually all processors manufactured and sold by the company, should be consolidated before one federal judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings. 

Following a “patch” released for Intel processors earlier this year, which was found to slow down consumers’ computers and other electronic devices, a growing number of Intel lawsuits have been filed against the company. This programming fix was intended to close an Intel processor security gap, which could allow hackers to access a computer’s memory.

These two exploits are known as “Meltdown”, which allows access to things like passwords and other information by cutting between an operating system and an application; and “Spectre”, which causes applications to leak information between programs that are usually isolated from one another, making data easier to steal.

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Both exploits are believed to be accessible in every Intel chip made, and could put most people’s private data at risk. Some experts estimate that almost every CPU manufactured in the last 10 to 20 years may be affected.

In an effort to fix these Intel chip problems, a number of companies have released automatic “updates” to computers, servers, cell phones and operating systems. However, these updates appear to cause the processing chips, the brains of computerized devices, to slow down anywhere from five to 30 percent.

Since news of the exploits and the patches began to spread, at least five Intel chip lawsuits have been filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, alleging the company has violated warranty laws and state deceptive trade practice laws. That number is expected to increase significantly in the coming weeks and months.

On January 8, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion to transfer the Intel CPU lawsuits to one judge for coordinated proceedings in the Northern District of California, where Intel is headquartered.

Since then, Intel has admitted there are problems with the patch that could lead to unexpected reboots and “other unpredictable system behavior.” Microsoft went as far as to recommend consumers not install the Intel patch on devices using its operating systems, and issued its own patch to uninstall the Intel patch.

In a Notice of Hearing Session (PDF) published on February 15, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) announced that it will hear oral arguments on the creation of an Intel multidistrict litigation (MDL) at a hearing set for March 29, in the Richard B. Russell Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia.

The order indicates that there are lawsuits pending in four separate district courts nationwide. Plaintiffs argue that consolidation would prevent duplicative discovery and conflicting pretrial rulings by different judges.

If the JPML agrees to consolidate the cases into a MDL, all pretrial proceedings would be handled by one judge, but the cases would remain individual lawsuits. If a settlement agreement is not reached, the cases would be transferred back to their originating districts for trial.

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