The general idea which dawns upon us when we hear about cyber threats is software vulnerabilities, malware attacks, data damage, unauthorised access to sensitive data, wiper attacks, and data manipulation. Adding on to this list, a new threat of hardware sabotage has emerged which is even harder to detect and poses a great security threat often causing deterioration of the whole system.
Hardware sabotage involves deliberate attacks to dismantle computers or networks to disrupt commerce, education, defence and recreation for personal gain, or facilitating criminal activities and conspiracies. It occurs mainly due to the hardware Trojans embedded into the electronic devices during chip manufacturing. As most of the manufacturing activities are being outsourced nowadays, the possibility of these manipulations has increased manifold because outsourced activities are difficult to monitor.
Marvin Onabajo, an assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Northeastern University provides an insight into this through his detailed research work. He developed a new approach for chip testing. His methodology is based on the principle that heat produced by electronic activity can make possible to detect any unexpected activity in the chip with temperature sensors installed in the chip. It can immediately deactivate the hardware and obstruct any leakage of important information.
Hardware sabotage can be used as a tool to create a window for the hacker to access defence systems, national intelligence data, banking systems, healthcare devices, etc. which can be dreadful for the entire nation. It can hamper many critical operations. Production of contaminated NS-DPF 10A digital picture frames in 2008, Trojan horse infected hard drives in 2007 and deliberate damage done to a computer meant for a space program indicates the extent of deterioration it can cause. So, it becomes vital to address this problem before it causes havoc through strict regulations and a check on offshore manufacturing.