Wesley K. Clark and Peter L. Levin
How to Enhance the United States' Electronic Defenses
Fortunately, the Obama administration recognizes that
Modern automated testers can test certain kinds of design fidelity within integrated circuits at the rate of millions of transistors per second. The problem is that such equipment can only detect deviations from a narrow set of specifications; testers cannot detect unknown unknowns. Moreover, the timeline of a hardware attack is altogether different from that of a software or network attack. Pervasive network infections are generally detectable, are mostly curable, and, until now, have been largely containable through the use of rapidly deployable software patches. In contrast, compromised hardware is almost literally a time bomb, because the corruption occurs well before the attack--during design implementation or manufacturing--and is detonated sometime in the future, probably from a faraway location.
A hardware breach is also more difficult to defend against than a network or software intrusion. There are two primary challenges when it comes to enhancing security in chips: ensuring their authenticity (because designs can be copied) and detecting malevolent function inside the device (because designs can be changed). But seeking to completely obliterate the threats of electronic infiltration, data theft, and hardware sabotage is neither cost-effective nor technically feasible; the best
The U.S. government can begin by diversifying the country's digital infrastructure; in the virtual world, just as in a natural habitat, a diversity of species offers the best chance for an ecosystem's survival in the event of an outside invasion. By imposing homogeneity onto
In addition to building a diverse, resilient IT infrastructure, it is crucial to secure the supply chain for hardware. This is a politically delicate issue that pits pro-trade politicians against national security hawks. Since most of the billions of chips that comprise the global information infrastructure are produced in unsecured facilities outside
In fact, streamlining procurement of IT components is utterly unrelated to the integrity of the components themselves; how the government purchases components does not determine what is actually delivered, tested, and deployed. Moreover, the enormous cost of maintaining a parallel domestic production capability to match the tremendous manufacturing advances of the private sector abroad would never pass muster in even the most hawkish appropriations review.
It makes sense to purchase electronic components, even those made offshore. The problem is not foreign sourcing; it is ensuring that foreign-made chips are authentic and secure. And promising strategies exist for doing this in the near term, such as embedding compact authentication codes directly into devices and configuring anti-tamper safeguards after the devices are produced, will enhance protection by tightening control of the supply chain and making the hardware more "self-aware."
The Bush administration's classified Comprehensive National Cyber Security Initiative, which led to a reported commitment of
The cybersecurity threat is real. All evidence indicates that the country's defenses are already being pounded, and the need to extend protection from computer networks and software to computer hardware is urgent. The U.S. government can not afford to ignore the threat from computer-savvy rivals or technologically advanced terrorist groups, because the consequences of a major breach would be catastrophic.
Available at Amazon.com: Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education
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