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Security Experts: Chinese Did Not Tamper With US Military Chip

One of yesterday's top stories in the tech world was that researchers had obtained ‘proof' that Chinese manufacturers were intentionally programming backdoors into chips used by the American military services with the intetion of extracting sensitive data.

Cyber security specialist Errata is today attempting to quash this claim, pointing out that while a backdoor was found in a popular FPGA chip, no evidence exists linking it to the Chinese or even to say it was intended to be malicious.

The firm highlights the generally porous nature of integrated circuits and the prevalence of the backdoor problem in a variety of security situations.

"Backdoors are a common problem in software. About 20 per cent of home routers have a backdoor in them, and 50 per cent of industrial control computers have a backdoor. The cause of these backdoors isn't malicious, but is a by-product of software complexity," says Rob Graham, one of Errata's experts.

Mr Graham also points out the digital equipment employed by the military is often much the same as its commercial equivalent, simply optimised to cope with unforgiving environments like the desert.

Actel, for instance, make a ‘military' version of its FPGA chip, but the only tangible difference with the off-the-shelf version is that it is able to endure higher temperatures of the sort typically found in present day battlegrounds like Afghanistan and Iraq.

In fact, none of the chips used by the armed forces are certified by the government to hold secrets, so the paranoia is likely to be a by-product of the on-going digital tensions between the U.S. and its communist superpower rival.

The security surrounding military information is always subject to intense scrutiny, with both relatively trivial and more serious breaches reported in recent months.

Source: Errata blog