Feeds

Microsemi rebuts silicon backdoor claim

Researchers aren’t talking so verification is hard

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Microsemi, manufacturer of the ProASIC3 field-programmable gate array (FPGA) that researchers Sergei Skorobogatov and Christopher Woods claim has a highly hackable backdoor, has issued a statement (PDF) about the attack.

The statement also casts doubt on the experimental method used to detect the backdoor, as it says the company “has not been able to confirm or deny the researchers’ claims since they have not contacted Microsemi with the necessary technical details of the set-up nor given Microsemi access to their custom-designed equipment for independent verification.”

The statement also says “there is no designed feature that would enable the circumvention of the user security.”

The document goes on to say that the internal test facility the researchers cracked, by obtaining a key after secretive electronic snooping, does indeed exist but is “disabled in all shipped devices” and “can only be entered in a customer-programmed device when the customer supplies their passcode, thus preventing unauthorized access by Microsemi or anyone else.” The FPGA can also, the statement says, be configured so the internal test facility is disabled and access is not possible, with or without a passcode.

On our reading, the statement says the “backdoor” is a feature in the form of an internal test facility, not a bug. While the researchers may have been able to extract a key, their work does not therefore constitute a revelation because it accesses a known set of functions that aren't hidden from customers.

Here in El Reg’s antipodean eyrie, we’re therefore keen to know if Skorobogatov and Woods worked with a brand new FPGA, because if we take Microsemi’s word for it there’s no reason a virgin ProASIC3 would have a passkey lurking within. But we can imagine a used ProASIC3’s passkey being extracted using the researchers’ cunning methods.

How did the key get there? It’s tempting to suppose that spies got wind of the research, intercepted the FPGA before it reached the lab and inserted a key for the team to find. The resulting explosive finding of a “backdoor” means we all now worry more about China. That makes somebody happy.

We’ve no idea who’s spies would have bothered, but feel justified in floating the idea because this will almost certainly be far from the oddest theory concocted to explain the affair. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Multipath TCP speeds up the internet so much that security breaks
Black Hat research says proposed protocol will bork network probes, flummox firewalls
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
Microsoft's Euro cloud darkens: US FEDS can dig into foreign servers
They're not emails, they're business records, says court
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.