Reality overtakes fiction: We are already at war, albeit electronic, but war all the same

In previous articles, we have described hardware viruses as minor modifications of very complex circuit boards that make the basic components of every modern electronic chip. The great danger these new virus types pose is that they are, in fact, nearly undetectable because they are dormant until activated. A few thousand additional circuits among a few millions on a chip cannot be revealed by routine quality control. When this chip is one out of a few thousands getting into an electronic device, what chance is there that it will be discovered? As the design and production of any modern device is a complex task being executed by hundreds of independent teams on several continents, nobody can truly be responsible for the integrity of a computer or a smart phone. A hardware virus can therefore be as dormant as a mole for years, until activated by a certain date, by an outside message, or by a sequence of internal events. Hardware viruses could be introduced into everyday electronics by a criminal organization or a foreign Intelligence Agency. Unlike a software-virus, which can be handled by antivirus software and reprogramming, hardware viruses cannot be dealt with without replacing the whole physical component. A point being made in our previous articles was that it is common knowledge that most modern electronic chips are today manufactured in Asia. Would it really be an insurmountable task for a Chinese Intelligence Agency to have a subcontractor tweak a ubiquitous chip? Your answer is as good as mine.

The reality of hardware viruses cannot be swept aside: Not only are they theoretically obvious, they have been manufactured by several University laboratories and their potential nefarious activity documented. But we are now told that an actual hardware virus has been detected! The chip in which a “backdoor” has been detected is a very common component of many applications—including communications and military equipment. The hardware misconstruction allows for an external input to modify programs and memory contents of the final device. This is a very serious revelation, which to date has only been explored in fiction. But, funnily, it happens that the manufacturer of the potentially malicious chip is… American. This does not weaken the fact, of course, that hardware viruses are already a reality, and a very serious reality at that.