The Hunt for the Kill Switch

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Pentagon realizes that it no longer controls who manufactures the components that go into its increasingly complex systems. A single plane like the DOD's next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, can contain an "insane number" of chips, says one semiconductor expert familiar with that aircraft's design. Estimates from other sources put the total at several hundred to more than a thousand. And tracing a part back to its source is not always straightforward. The dwindling of domestic chip and electronics manufacturing in the United States, combined with the phenomenal growth of suppliers in countries like China, has only deepened the U.S. military's concern.

In December, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon's R&D wing, released details about a three-year initiative it calls the Trust in Integrated Circuits program. The findings from the program could give the military-and defense contractors who make sensitive microelectronics like the weapons systems for the F-35-a guaranteed method of determining whether their chips have been compromised. In January, the Trust program started its prequalifying rounds by sending to three contractors four identical versions of a chip that contained unspecified malicious circuitry. The teams have until the end of this month to ferret out as many of the devious insertions as they can.

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On Thu, 01 May 2008 14:47:50 GMT, "Joe" put finger to keyboard and composed:

I've often wondered if the US has ever designed such backdoor circuitry into the weaponry it sells to friendly countries to guard against the possibility that such countries may one day become their foes. For example, it would be nice if the Stinger missiles that Reagan provided to the Taliban were fitted with hidden, remotely controlled self destruct mechanisms. Of course then you would have the risk that an accounting error may result in friendly fire.

- Franc Zabkar

Please remove one \'i\' from my address when replying by email.
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Franc Zabkar

Great idea - a "return to sender" tick box.

Sounds like a variation on the feedback mechanisms MS put into XP upgrades and XBox360 software.

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Would that have been possible in those days ?

These days it would be interesting question - with GPS so common, it would be quite feasible to outfit any of this "guided" military equipment with a system to prevent it from being used on certain targets (or from certain regions), or a self destruct mechanism as you suggested. Very likely it would turn around and shoot you in the back :)

How easy it would be for a 3rd party to hack this, (lets face it - almost everything else has been hacked) or retrofit another control system is another matter. It must be a worrying thought for other nations who have purchased military hardware from US (or anyone for that matter) that it may have these capabilities, or that these capabilities might be activated/automatically downloaded later (via GPS transmissions?) in a time of war - to suit the US or other makers "agenda". Lets face it, the US has had a history of turning on its former allies when convenient, especially in the middle east. Im sure that other countries arent above doing this as well if required.

Hopefully our armed forces have sufficiently trained persons who can check equipment for and detect this sort of thing, and remove it if needed.

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I'd heard the Iraqi army bought British comms radios that transmitted information the Iraqis weren't aware of as a high speed squirt transmission to satellites. This was during the first gulf war.

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Mark Harriss

Don't know about that, it seems too easy to detect, easier just to inject the key into the ciphertext...

This, on the other hand, says that the USA has a long history of such dealings, and of using it for economic purposes. Read the article about Crypto AG also... .

The whole thing reads very like a conspiracy theory, but there's a lot of substance if you dig. It's well documented that the Brits and Americans sold Enigma machines for many years after the war, because they'd worked out how to break those codes. It was quite natural to extend that into electronic cryptography.

Clifford Heath.

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Clifford Heath

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