Atom Wave: Digital Eyes In The Phony Box

Atom Wave

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Digital Eyes In The Phony Box

The spies lurking in all the dark areas of the world have acquired a new weapon, and espionage will never be the same again. Where once all you needed to worry about was remote sensing aircraft and satellites, and the occasional Bond in the office. This new weapon is the computer network itself.

Counterfeit routers and switches are the new rage, and these new products are virtual copies of the originals. In the aftermath of a two-year operation, the F.B.I recently announced 15 criminal cases stemming from the discovery of $3.5 million dollars in phony Cisco hardware. This hardware had been destine for military systems and their contractors, and nobody can really say how deep the problem goes. It is still unknown if those accused did it for profit or espionage, but in the end it is irrelevant.

The threat was proven last April when a team from the University of Illinois presented a paper in San Francisco demonstrating how they made a minor modification to a Sun Microsystems SPARC microprocessor used in automated assembly equipment. All that was required was an adjustment to a data file on the chip and they had their own stealth program, useful for logging in and stealing passwords.

Anyone who knows anything about microprocessors knows that they have millions or billions of unique circuits in their construction. If you want to add a kill switch or a back door, all you need to do is modify a few of them. Needless to say these adjustments are exceedingly difficult to detect.

It is already suspected that these tricks have been used in warfare. In the last Iraq war it is believed that the United States and its allies used Trojan horses to remotely disable Iraqi surface to air missile sites prior to the bombings.

There is a simple but inconvenient partial solution to this torture. Computers are universal devices; anyone can accomplish any task with the right software and time. Computing clusters (basically the internet itself) are very robust to sabotage. Build your network to run on two or more unique systems and should the shit hit the fan, chances are at least one of them will be good if some rectal wart decides to shut you down.

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