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Tech Wake-Up: China, China, Stuxnet, Spy Planes, and Sir Isaac Newton

By Mark Devlin

June 4, 2012



China Chip Backdoor Confirmed

There’s been chatter and well-informed theories from the highest levels that China-manufactured microchips could have backdoors that could allow hackers into both those chips and associated systems.

Well, it’s not conjecture anymore.

According to this article at DefenseTech, the ‘PA3’ chip—‘considered to be one of the “most impenetrable” on the market’—actually has a backdoor built into it. The discovery was made by Cambridge researcher and scientist Sergei Skorobogatov.

The scary part? This isn’t a chip for smartphones, for example. Rather, it’s…

…used in military “weapons, guidance, flight control, networking and communications” hardware, according to Skorobogatov’s report on his findings that was published last weekend. The PA3 is also used in civilian “nuclear power plants, power distribution, aerospace, aviation, public transport and automotive products,” according to Skorobogatov.

Specifically, the chip in question is the American-designed, China-manufactured Actel/Microsemi ProASIC3 A3P250—a Field Reprogrammable Gate Array (FRGA), which is ‘an almost blank slate of a microchip’ that can be programmed for different tasks.

Malware delivery? Heck, the malware’s built right in. Patchable? No, since the problem’s on silicon. Even if software is developed to prevent backdoor entry, ‘an attacker can use the underlying hardware to circumvent the software countermeasures.’

PA3_Chip

Actel/Microsemi promo copy says…

"Our high-density, military-temperature ProASIC3 and ProASIC3EL devices give designers the increased logic they need for their sophisticated military and aerospace applications. The combination of industry-leading low power and high reliability provides an extremely desirable solution for these systems."

Uh-huh. Doesn’t that make you feel all safe and cozy?

Wow. Talk about Crichtonesque story potential.



Speaking of China: Apple Moving More Manufacturing Back to U.S.?

Recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that manufacturing of several iPhone parts could be headed back to the U.S.

Problems? Just a couple, the first coming from this article at MacNN

[Cook] added that one of the main areas of manufacture, tool and die, couldn't be done in the US since there were so few tool and die makers left in the US. You'd need "several large cities" to hold all the tool and die makers in China. By comparison, you couldn't fill [a large room] with US tool and die makers, he said.

Another problem? Coming right up. Even if more of Apple’s manufacturing comes back (Currently, the iPhone’s A-Series processor and Gorilla Glass are made here at home.), we need to remember that most iPhone parts will continue to be made in China. Some parts (here) will require other parts (there), so the logistics start getting nightmarish. According to this brief at Electronista referencing DigiTimes, ‘shipping the parts back to the U.S. could prove too expensive.’

As factually pointed out in countless articles, for example, the U.S.—as opposed to China—will likely never again have factory towns where hordes of workers can be quickly mobilized.

Availability of engineering talent is also an issue. Some have said for years that we do, in fact, have a shortage of engineers in the U.S., others have more recently said that this is hogwash. We certainly don’t have the ability to quickly throw, for instance, a thousand engineers at a short-schedule project—as can China.

Nice PR move there, Mr. Cook.



Stuxnet: It’s Official. Again. We Did It.

On the heels of recent discovery of the Flame Trojan comes word from The New York Times that not only were the U.S. and Israel responsible for Stuxnet, but President Obama…

…secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.

Huh. I’m shocked.

Welcome to a new world in which digital attacks can do much more damage than just blowing stuff up.

Right off the bat and without tens of millions worth of think-tankers, one can quickly wonder when and how such enemies will retaliate.



Answers to Cool, Decades-Old Spy Plane Question Declassified

SR-71 Blackbird: perhaps the most ominous aircraft in history, and always the subject of my favorite, drool-worthy images…

SR-71_Take_Off

(Go here for the full, wallpaper-sized, 1280 x 800 image of the above. It's only 72 dpi, though.)

Delivered by Lockheed’s Skunk Works in 1966. Speeds over Mach 3. Bounces off the edges of space at 85,000 feet. What’s not to like?

There were a few versions of the project, one being the SR-71’s predecessor, the CIA’s A-12 Oxcart. They look pretty much the same; here’s an A-12…

CIA_A-12

What’s the difference?

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and this brief at DefenseTech, the A-12 was lighter and could thus fly 2,000 to 5,000 feet higher at speeds comparable to that of the SR-71. It weighed less since it didn’t carry as much stuff. The SR-71, on a single mission, could pack…

  • two “technical objective cameras”
  • two “operational objective cameras”
  • one “terrain objective camera”
  • one “high resolution” side-looking radar
  • one infrared camera
  • one electronic and communications intelligence-gathering package
  • three electronic warfare (countermeasures) systems, “CFAX, APR 27 and System 13C”


Here’s the Scribd link to the readable/downloadable declassified document with specifics…

One commenter at the above-linked DefenseTech piece said about the ‘71’s speed capabilities…

A late friend of mine worked in the Skunkworks on everything from P-38s to the A-12 / Blackbirds and retired in the '70s. He had a lot of cool stories to tell and some he wouldn't. I asked him one day, long after he retired, how fast the SR-71 would go balls-out. He said "I don't know and I'm not sure there are more than a dozen people that really do, but I installed the Mach meters in all of them and the meters will read over Mach 4."

Granted, just because the speedo goes to 160 doesn’t mean that the car in which it’s installed will do 160. But we’re talking top-secret, Groom Lake, alien technology here.

There’s a whole bunch of A-12 material right on the CIA site, too.

(Pssst. Buddy. Wanna buy a used SR-71 tail rudder? There's one on eBay for a mil. With 49 offers so far. Hat tip to Jalopnik.)



Sixteen-Year-Old Solves 350-Year Old Math Problem

According to Discovery News, yet another, previously unsolved question’s been answered…

Sixteen-year-old Shouryya Ray, a boy of Indian origin attending school in Germany, cracked two particle dynamics theories. Ray's novel solutions can now help scientists calculate the flight path of a thrown ball and predict how it will strike and bounce off a wall, according to the International Business Times.

I was doing a lot of things at 16. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), not a single one of those things involved solving Newtonian math problems.

 

Have a great week…



 

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