The Department of Defense is freaked out that the commercially-manufactured microchips in their tech might contain "kill switches" that bad people could use to remotely knock the devices out of operation. So at the end of last year, DARPA launched its Trust In Integrated Circuits program to develop methods for sussing out chips with "malicious" circuitry hidden inside. IEEE Spectrum writer Sally Adee looked at the technicalities of the controversy. She told me, "I think interviewed every electrical engineer in the country so I could wrap my head around 1) why that's a big deal and 2) how it would affect me (I'm selfish that way.) From IEEE Spectrum:
Feeding those (fever) dreams is the Pentagon's realization that it no longer controls who manufactures the components that go into its increasingly complex systems. A single plane like the DOD's next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, can contain an “insane number” of chips, says one semiconductor expert familiar with that aircraft's design. Estimates from other sources put the total at several hundred to more than a thousand. And tracing a part back to its source is not always straightforward. The dwindling of domestic chip and electronics manufacturing in the United States, combined with the phenomenal growth of suppliers in countries like China, has only deepened the U.S. military's concern.
Recognizing this enormous vulnerability, the DOD recently launched its most ambitious program yet to verify the integrity of the electronics that will underpin future additions to its arsenal. In December, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon's R&D wing, released details about a three-year initiative it calls the Trust in Integrated Circuits program. The findings from the program could give the military–and defense contractors who make sensitive microelectronics like the weapons systems for the Fâ€‘35–a guaranteed method of determining whether their chips have been compromised. In January, the Trust program started its prequalifying rounds by sending to three contractors four identical versions of a chip that contained unspecified malicious circuitry. The teams have until the end of this month to ferret out as many of the devious insertions as they can.
Vetting a chip with a hidden agenda can't be all that tough, right? Wrong. Although commercial chip makers routinely and exhaustively test chips with hundreds of millions of logic gates, they can't afford to inspect everything. So instead they focus on how well the chip performs specific functions. For a microprocessor destined for use in a cellphone, for instance, the chip maker will check to see whether all the phone's various functions work. Any extraneous circuitry that doesn't interfere with the chip's normal functions won't show up in these tests.
“You don't check for the infinite possible things that are not specified,” says electrical engineering professor Ruby Lee, a cryptography expert at Princeton. “You could check the obvious possibilities, but can you test for every unspecified function?”
This gadget does exactly as promised: it looks like a thumbdrive (sort of) and fries the circuitry of any computer it’s plugged into. It’s made from camera flash parts, is charged with a standard AA battery, and delivers a 300V zap of DC destruction to the port for all your USB-murdering needs. Note that this […]
The Cobham catalog, exposed by The Intercept, features countless pages of surveillance gadgets sold to U.S. police to spy on American citizens: tiny black boxes with a big interest in you. In the creepily bland feature lists and nerdy product names is a whisper of a dark future; perhaps darker than anyone can imagine.
This image depicts the most commonly-found stylesheet colors on the web’s top sites—Paul Hebert did an amazing amount of analysis and this is just one of the intriguing visualizations he came up with. Most of these are obvious staples, especially HTML red and blue, though it’s interesting how far the blue “cluster” is from the […]
Loot Crate is a totally different kind of subscription service that mails subscribers monthly boxes filled with curated geek, pop culture, and gamer paraphernalia. Its cult following awaits a box every month filled with everything from bobble heads to T-shirts to special edition collectibles. But nothing gets Loot Crate fans as excited as the limited […]
The ARMOR-X Mini Flexible Phone Tripod is a smartphone tripod that is designed with flexible legs to rest on virtually any type of surface. Other tripods have proved useless unless I conveniently have a flat surface in front of me, which is why this particular tripod was appealing enough to try out. The ARMOR-X is compact and easy […]
You don’t need to get an advanced degree and take out massive loans to become a coder. This bundle of 10 courses was designed to teach anyone to code at home for less than it costs to go out for dinner. I was particularly impressed with this new 2017 bundle because it includes courses on […]