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Security Researchers Create ­ndetectable Hardware Trojans

By Computerworld

September 20, 2013

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U.S. and European researchers have released a paper showing how integrated circuits used in computers, military equipment, and other critical systems can be compromised during the manufacturing process through almost undetectable changes at the transistor level.

The paper describes how the method could be used to modify and weaken the hardware random number generator on processors and the encryption protections on a smartcard without anyone noticing the changes.

This paper is the first to describe how cybercriminals can insert a hardware Trojan into a microchip without any additional circuitry, transistors, or other logic resources, according to Ruhr University's Christof Paar. Although previous research has described hardware Trojans consisting of small to medium-sized integrated circuits added to a chip during the hardware description language layer of the manufacturing process, the new research shows how a hardware Trojan can be introduced at a later stage of the design process by changing the doping on some of the chip's transistors. By switching the doping on a few transistors, parts of the integrated circuit no longer work properly.

The approach the research describes is "undetectable by function testing and optical inspection," says security researcher Bruce Schneier.

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