Cyber Warfare And Hardware Attacks

When we read in the press about “hacking”, it’s mostly about software-based attacks. It may be about exploiting a vulnerability to reveal passwords or attacking an insecure computer. Then there’s the entire social-engineering aspect to it, which is basically hacking a person’s mind (can also be seen as a person’s software).

Cyber-warfare^ has been defined as “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption”. Serious confrontations are also going on between corporations, with industrial espionage being one of the main drivers. Unlike in real war, because a single individual can take on an entire nation through the use of clever hacking, the boundaries between these “size categories” are blurred.

In addition to the myriad ways a target can be hacked through software, there’s something far more insidious and dangerous that can happen. Hardware-based attacks:^

What the article above explains is how tiny hardware back-doors can be baked inside any integrated circuit. It’s not news that this is doable, but what is news is that it’s way too easy to achieve and almost impossible to detect. Even in the case of the highly advanced computer processors that are inside all our devices. Apparently it can be done by a single (well trained) person working inside the factory that manufactures the chip.

Such modifications are extremely hard to detect. It’s quite tempting to go a bit paranoid when thinking about how many of our mission-critical processors are manufactured in Asia. China has lately started to re-assert itself technologically and militarily. There was an age when airplanes and bombs would decide the fate of a war. That age is slowly fading away.

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