Putting A Backdoor In Computer Chips During Manufacturing

Researchers have provided the world with some very worrying finding, as it is possible to build a backdoor in computer chips. To make matters even worse, it would be nearly impossible to detect such a backdoor. Albeit this is only a proof-of-concept for the time being, it goes to show the technology we use can be tampered with in many different ways.

Computer Chips Can Contain A Backdoor

TheMerkle_Computer Chip Backdoor

It has to be said, however, this proof-of-concept is the first fabrication-time processor attack of its kind. This also goes to show how analog attacks against technology may be even more disconcerting than their digital counterparts will ever be. Plus, executing an attack at the manufacturing stage could compromise the way we use technology in the future.

The study – presented in the form of a technical paper – mentions how a single logic gate needs to be added to a chip ready for fabrication. Additionally, there is a stealthy process involved to trigger changes in the gate’s functionality before it will act in a malicious manner. While this sounds a lot of trouble for potentially little reward, this method is all but impossible to detect.

Rather than changing the chip’s design or circuitry, targeting the logic gate opens up a lot of opportunities. Keeping in mind how the logic gate controls the chip’s behavior, and how there are hundreds of millions of these gates per microprocessor, there is a significant risk.

That being said, the logic gate would need to accumulate enough charge in the capacitor. Researchers showed a method to continually siphon charges from nearby wires when issuing specific commands. Given enough time, it is theoretically possible to turn a logic gate into a malicious piece of hardware.

One of the big questions becomes whether or not it is feasible to pursue an analog attack at the chip fabrication stage. The attacks apparently work, and they manage to evade known defenses. Companies relying on third-party suppliers for manufacturing designs could find themselves facing a real-time version of this threat in the future. Not to mention how law enforcement agencies might try their hand at executing such an attack.

Source: Dark Reading

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