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?”
Where are our petabyte drives? Brian Hayes takes us through the reasons storage is “stuck” in the low terabytes. The tl;dr is that we got such exceptional capacity growth in the late 90s and early 00s we don’t need much more right now, so the focus since then has been on SSDs, networking, interfaces, etc, […]
Amélie Lamont, a former staffer at website-hosting startup Squarespace, writes that she often found herself disregarded and disrespected by her colleagues. One comment in particular, though, set her reeling — and came to exemplify her experiences there.
In this episode of the Flash Forward podcast we travel to a future where humans have decided to eradicate the most dangerous animal on the planet: mosquitos. How would we do it? Is it even possible? And what are the consequences? Flash Forward: RSS | iTunes | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Patreon We […]
You never know when new projects, ideas or opportunities can drop into your lap at a moment’s notice. That may require you to learn a new programming language like Python. Or maybe you need a primer on 3D game development. Or you might realize you could use a serious brush-up on iOS mobile creation.Point is, […]
Isn’t it about time to stretch what your Mac can do? I mean, you’ve got plenty of great programs now…but don’t you think you could use some new tools to get your creative, analytical and organizational juices really flowing? It’s spring, so we cleaned up a whole bunch of super-cool apps lying around and packaged […]
In the world of app development, there’s no greater arena to find success than with Android users. About 80% of the smartphones in use today worldwide operate on the Android operating system, so if you build a great app that Android users love, you’re an international rock star. You’ll be able to make sure your […]