Published in PC Hardware

Expert claims NSA has backdoors in Intel, AMD processors

by on31 July 2013

Paranoid tin foil hat wearers were right all along?

We’re not fans of conspiracy theories and we can never be. They don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny and as a geek site we have a soft spot for science, tech and logic. Well, at least science and tech, logic is overrated.

Silicon Valley security expert Steve Blank now says there is a very good chance that AMD and Intel processors ship with a very nice feature for totalitarian regimes. They might have a backdoor that allows spooks to access and control computers. Furthermore security expert Jonathan Brossard recently told the Financial Review that CPU backdoors are attractive attack vectors.

Blank said the NSA has already secured pre-encryption access to Microsoft’s email services and that this could be why the Kremlin is bringing back electric typewriters, which we find very cool as they remind us of the Cold War.

He pointed out that hacking computers was a lot better for the NSA than cracking codes. Why would they bother with decryption when they could tap processors directly, via a backdoor? Blank said chip companies started integrating automatic software patching in the nineties, in an effort to resolve small bugs without recalling the processors.

The NSA could have used the same avenue to do its shady job.

“Perhaps they are the only good guys,” he said. “Or perhaps the NSA – legally compelling the chip vendors and/or Microsoft, or working outside of them – have compromised the microcode updates that affect most computers.”

Blank said intelligence agencies could use the same microcode updates to mess around with random number generators, which are vital to encryption. If they could seize them, intelligence agencies could decrypt heavily encrypted communication as fast as somebody could type.

Needless to say, Intel described the claims as "highly speculative".

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