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High-tech warfare: Something wrong with our **** chips today
Economist ^ | 4/7/11

Posted on 04/11/2011 3:18:07 PM PDT by LibWhacker

Kill switches are changing the conduct and politics of war

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.

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.

Kill switches and other remote controls are on the minds of Western governments pondering whether to send weapons such as sophisticated anti-tank missiles, normally tightly policed, to rebels in Libya. Keeping tabs on when and where they are fired will allay fears that they could end up in terrorist hands. Such efforts would not even need to be kept secret. A former CIA official says the rebels could be told: “Look, we’re going to give you this, but we want to be able to control it.”

That lesson was first learned in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when America supplied Stinger missiles to help Afghan fighters against Soviet helicopter gunships, only to have to comb the region’s arms bazaars in later years to buy them back (some were then booby-trapped and sold again, to deter anyone tempted to use them).

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.

Chips off the home block

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.

Farinaz Koushanfar, a DARPA-funded expert at Texas’s Rice University, says microchip designers would like to be able to switch off their products “in the wild”, in case the contractors that make the chips produce some extra ones to sell on the sly. She designs “active hardware metering” chips that, in devices connected to the internet, can remotely identify them and if necessary switch them off.

An obvious countermeasure is to keep critical defence equipment off the net. But that is only a partial solution. Chips can be designed to break down at a certain date. An innocent-looking component or even a bit of soldering can be a disguised antenna. When it receives the right radio signal, from, say, a mobile-phone network, aircraft or satellite, the device may blow up, shut down, or work differently.

Old-fashioned spying can reveal technological weaknesses too. Mr Lindahl says Sweden obtained detailed information on circuitry in a heat-seeking missile that at least one potential adversary might, in wartime, shoot at one of its eight C-130 Hercules military-transport planes. A slight but precise change in the ejection tempo of the decoy flares would direct those missiles towards the flame, not the aircraft.

Such tricks may be handy in dealing with unreliable allies as well as foes, but they can also hamper Western efforts to contain risk in unstable countries. Pakistan has blocked American efforts to safeguard its nuclear facilities. The country’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Munir Akram, cites fears that such measures will include secret remote controls to shut the nuclear programme down. A European defence official says even video surveillance cameras can intercept or disrupt communications. To avoid such threats, Pakistani engineers laboriously disassemble foreign components and replicate them.

Wesley Clark, a retired general who once headed NATO’s forces, says that “rampant” fears of kill switches make American-backed defence co-operation agreements a harder sell. David Kay, a notable United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, bemoans “scepticism and paranoia”. You just can’t trust anybody these days, even in the weapons business.

TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: electronic; kill; switch; warfare

1 posted on 04/11/2011 3:18:13 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: LibWhacker

“Trust” the Paki’s?

They’re Moslim!

2 posted on 04/11/2011 3:25:22 PM PDT by GladesGuru (In a society predicated upon freedom, it is essential to examine principles,)
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To: LibWhacker

Good thing no one like, say, China, doesn’t embed stuff in any of the things we buy...

3 posted on 04/11/2011 3:25:34 PM PDT by null and void (We are now in day 809 of our national holiday from reality. - That 3 AM phone call? Voicemail...)
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To: LibWhacker
Wesley Clark, a retired general who once headed NATO’s forces

David Kay, a notable United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq

Ahhhh! "Weasley" Clark and a UN Weapons Inspector. I am impressed. /sarcasm

4 posted on 04/11/2011 3:26:22 PM PDT by Texas Fossil (Government, even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one)
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To: Travis McGee; CodeToad; Lurker; hiredhand

Ok ....who spilled the baba ghanoush... ?

5 posted on 04/11/2011 3:28:52 PM PDT by Squantos (Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet)
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To: LibWhacker

Hmmm...I wonder how much electronic “stuff” we have...even if only on individual persons, within our military that is “Made in China”?

I am sure they are capable of doing the same to us.

6 posted on 04/11/2011 3:32:20 PM PDT by Jeff Head (Liberty is not free. Never has been, never will be. (
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To: Squantos; Travis McGee
Dig around on the 'net to learn about how much counterfeit Cisco gear is on the market. Do I even need to say it's from China? And do I need to say that Uncle FedGov has a ton of Cisco sh** on their networks all of which came from the low bidder?

But hey, switches, routers, and voice communications gear ain't really critical infrastructure....

7 posted on 04/11/2011 4:18:01 PM PDT by Lurker (The avalanche has begun. The pebbles no longer have a vote.)
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To: Jeff Head

Oh they have done this to us. Cisco network equipment is the most popular. It is very widely used in the military, govt, and commercial segments.

Much of it is manufactured in China. Roughly 3 years ago there were backdoors identified in some of the equipment made in China. The backdoors allowed the Chinese to enter the networks at will.

But network security is weak enough they really don’t have to bother. One security officer reported to me that he was changing some of the security settings in one piece of equipment. He watched someone from a Chinese IP address change it back.

8 posted on 04/11/2011 4:33:21 PM PDT by driftdiver (I could eat it raw, but why do that when I have a fire.)
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To: Squantos

Trust no one! However, these type of devices are funny as Hell to watch the enemy doom themselves. It isn’t funny to hear someone talk about them as they really do contribute to national security and can wipe out national security. Dealing with ITAR every day we get a sense of the spy-v-spy that still happens everyday. The foreign countries also have their versiono f ITAR and other regs and watch what we put into various products.

9 posted on 04/11/2011 5:12:34 PM PDT by CodeToad (Islam needs to be banned in the US and treated as a criminal enterprise.)
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To: CodeToad

To many ignore the basic need to know rule ..... We had a congress critter visit recently....we were told to brief him on every aspect an detail. We lied an our boss smiled....all good.

Need to know is key. When they give uberaccess to polidiots an nut huggers...but I repeat myself... The need to know rule is the last line of defense of such information.

Stay Safe...

10 posted on 04/11/2011 6:03:36 PM PDT by Squantos (Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet)
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To: Squantos

Good man. I wouldn’t broadcast it, though, but I know what you meant was you were fibbing about the hot chicks you bagged. That would bring a smile to your boss’s face.

11 posted on 04/11/2011 6:08:52 PM PDT by Lazamataz (The Democrat Party is Communist. The Republican Party is Socialist. The Tea Party is Capitalist.)
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To: Lazamataz

Lol.... Not an accident that all my dollars are covered in stripper glitter.

Easy daze.....

12 posted on 04/11/2011 6:21:12 PM PDT by Squantos (Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet)
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To: LibWhacker


13 posted on 04/11/2011 9:36:50 PM PDT by Kevmo (Turning the Party over to the so-called moderates wouldn't make any sense at all. ~Ronald Reagan)
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