I recently attended several conferences at which the issue of hardware malware – or compromised electronic circuitry – was brought up as a significant threat. There has been disquietude for some time with respect to evildoers purposely inserting circuitry into devices, such as point-of-sales (POS) terminals, and using such hardware and concomitant software to harvest personal data, credit/debit card numbers, PINs, and the like. The POS terminal exploit did happen.
It is feared that, in other cases, such circuitry might be used to endanger human safety and national security. This fear was exacerbated in an October 26, 2009 New York Times article “Old Trick Threatens the Newest Weapons” by John Markoff. He notes that “the Pentagon now manufactures in secure facilities run by American companies only about 2 percent of the more than $3.5 billion of integrated circuits bought annually for use in military gear.” According to Markoff, “… current and former United States military and intelligence agency executives … argue that the menace of so-called Trojan horses hidden in equipment circuitry is among the most severe threats [to national security].”