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?”
Looking for a tiny PC that still has space for a gaming-quality video card? SFF PC Cases is a remarkably detailed spreadsheet listing dozens of models, complete with cost, dimensions, volume and even important build tips. The very smallest are not practical for powerful builds, but the critical “Maximum GPU length” field is right there […]
Enjoy Michael Mullany’s review of the Gartner Hype Cycle, with all the things tech predictors got right and all the things they got wrong: “we’re terrible at making predictions.” Lesson 6: Some technologies keep receding into the future There are some notable technologies that recur on the Hype Cycle and every time they appear they […]
Why we secretly love our cords. Tamara Warren: There’s a certain security in the cord. It’s the idea of connection, perhaps even dating back to our days in the womb. … A battery, no matter how sophisticated, is fleeting. When we have our cords with us, we are in constant pursuit of power, even when […]
Toaster ovens are the perfect appliance for small things like toasted sandwiches and roasted garlic (try it!), but anything more involved usually requires a full-sized conventional oven.However, despite its small size, the Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven can handle anything from baked pastries to broiled meats. This kitchen appliance has a minimal countertop footprint, and cooks […]
The Pry.Me Bottle Opener holds tens of thousands of times its own weight, and you can pick one up now from the Boing Boing Store.This remarkable keychain is considerably smaller than any of your keys, but don’t let that fool you: it can easily open any bottle, and could even tow a trailer full of […]
Guaranteeing your privacy online goes way beyond checking the “Do Not Track” option in your browser’s settings. To ensure that your internet activity is totally hidden from Internet Service Providers, advertisers, and other prying eyes, take a look at Windscribe’s VPN protection. It usually costs $7.50 per month, but you can get a 3-year subscription […]