War Like No Other: rogue chips as warriors

Who Knew?

” In the 1991 Gulf war Iraq’s armed forces used American-made colour photocopiers to produce their battle plans. That was a mistake. The circuitry in some of them contained concealed transmitters that revealed their position to American electronic-warfare aircraft, making bomb and missile strikes more precise. The operation, described by David Lindahl, a specialist at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, a government think-tank, highlights a secret front in high-tech warfare: turning enemy assets into liabilities.”

Kill Switches and War: “The internet and the growing complexity of electronic circuitry have made it much easier to install what are known as “kill switches” and “back doors”, which may disable, betray or blow up the devices in which they are installed. Chips can easily contain 2 billion transistors, leaving plenty of scope to design a few that operate secretly. Testing even a handful of them for anomalies requires weeks of work…

America worries about becoming the victim of kill switches itself. Six years ago a report by America’s Defence Science Board, an official advisory body, said “unauthorised design inclusions” in foreign-made chips could help an outside power gain a measure of control over critical American hardware…In response, America has launched schemes such as the Trusted Foundry Programme, which certifies “secure, domestic” facilities for the manufacture of the most critical microchips. The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a Pentagon outfit devoted to expanding the military’s technological abilities, will spend at least $20m this year on ways to identify rogue microchips. The Army Research Office is holding a closed conference on kill switches in mid-April.

Excerpts from High-tech warfare: Something wrong with our **** chips today, Economist, April 9, at 69

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