Stopping Hardware Trojans in Their Tracks

IEEE Spectrum

A hardware Trojan is exactly what it sounds like: a small change to an integrated circuit that can disturb chip operation. With the right design, a clever attacker can alter a chip so that it fails at a crucial time or generates false signals. Or the attacker can add a backdoor that can sniff out encryption keys or passwords or transmit internal chip data to the outside world.

There’s good reason to be concerned. In 2007, a Syrian radar failed to warn of an incoming air strike; a backdoor built into the system’s chips was rumored to be responsible. Other serious allegations of added circuits have been made. And there has been an explosion in reports of counterfeit chips, raising questions about just how much the global supply chain for integrated circuits can be trusted....

A lot of research is still being devoted to understanding the scope of the problem. But solutions are already starting to emerge. In 2011, the United States’ Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) started a new program to explore ways to make trusted chips. As part of that program, our team at Stanford University, along with other research groups, is working on fundamental changes to the way integrated circuits are designed and manufactured.