A number of legislators have expressed concern in recent years over the use of Chinese manfauctured electronic components in US military hardware.
Some believe the chips represent a clear security risk, as manufacturers could insert so-called back doors – allowing unauthorized access to US military systems or even civilian infrastructure.
Unsurprisingly, researchers at Cambridge University reently discovered that a microprocessor used extensively by the US military is equipped with a backdoor – allowing the chip to be reprogrammed.
Perhaps most disturbingly, the chip is also present in a number of American civilian systems and networks, including nuclear power plants and public transportation.
If the above-mentioned report is accurate, the Chinese military could potentially exploit the backdoor to reprogram US infrastructure and various weapons systems. Unfortunately, the chip can’t be patched with a software update, as the vulnerability is hardware based.
“Our aim was to perform advanced code breaking and to see if there were any unexpected features on the (US Military) chip. We scanned the silicon chip in an affordable time and found a previously unknown backdoor inserted by the manufacturer. This backdoor has a key, which we were able to extract,” explained Sergei Skorobogatov of Quo Vadis Labs at Cambridge University.
“If you use this key you can disable the chip or reprogram it at will, even if locked by the user with their own key. This particular chip is prevalent in many systems from weapons, nuclear power plants to public transport. In other words, this backdoor access could be turned into an advanced Stuxnet weapon to attack potentially millions of systems. The scale and range of possible attacks has huge implications for National Security and public infrastructure.”
The saving grace of this alleged hack? It requires a saboteur to physically connect equipment to the chip and its system to initiate a reprogamming cycle. Although military and civilian infrastructure are often under heavy guard, a determined operative could likely breach security and access the chip in certain locations – threatening mass transit systems and nuclear power plants.
Personally, I can’t help but wonder whe we will stop using cheaper foreign electronics in critical military systems and infrastructure that leave us vulnerable to attack.