Chinese Trapdoors: What’s in your chip?

Today I received the following from one of my correspondents:

Former Pentagon Official Says All Chinese Electronics In The US Could Have Built-In Trapdoors by Robert Johnson, Mar. 30, 2012, 6:13 AM

Richard Clarke has another disturbing prediction for America.


Clarke, like the rest of the world, knows China is sending compromised electronics to the U.S. by the boatload, to be used in military vehicles from submarines to fighter jets, and that many of them are poor quality, counterfeit, and worthless, but he thinks they hold another secret.

He believes the Chinese, already known for their industrial espionage, and electronic subterfuge, have built “logic bombs,” “Trojan horses,” and trapdoors into all manner of electronic components that could be activated at a moments notice, sending a digital apocalypse to the U.S. military with a few simple keystrokes.

Is this threat real? Or (just) another theory to scare the s… out of us?
— Shirley C.

Shirley, I always take what Mr. Clarke has to say with a fair dose of salt. That said, know that the operative phrase is “could have.” It’s a possibility, but no one knows just how big the problem actually is. (Or they’re not telling!) This issue has been recognized for some time and previously reported. The first “official” confirmation I have of it came from the following source, Office of the Director of National Intelligence:

Remarks by the National Counterintelligence Executive
Dr. Joel F. Brenner
Applied Research Laboratories
University of Texas at Austin
Business Strategies in Cyber Security and Counterintelligence
April 3, 2009

Wherein Dr. Brenner makes the following statements:

Counterintelligence used to be (a) challenge for the FBI, CIA, and the military. Now it’s a challenge for every private firm that lives on a network – which means all of them. Here are a few examples – all real – of threats you face:

• A leading US firm enters negotiations with the Chinese, only to realize midway through that the Chinese know every one of their bottom line positions as a result of having hacked their network.

• A US computer security expert gets off a plane in Beijing with a new PDA, turns it on, and by the time he gets to his hotel, finds a handful of beacons remotely inserted. Some are designed to track his movements, others to infect and investigate his home server when he emails home.

• A US computer security firm wanting to do business in China hires a group of Chinese. To do what? Research security vulnerabilities. Do they vet them? Apparently not. They include at least one hacker with ties to the PRC government.

• A PRC intelligence officer approaches an ethnic Chinese, US citizen who is highly placed in the CIO organization of a US firm. They want him to spy on his own company. He turns them down. Later he’s approached again — this time to say that his mother in China needs hospitalization, but the hospitals are, you know, crowded. Does he want to reconsider?

• Data loss stories now too numerous to keep up with—often relegated to inside pages of newspapers.

• Criminal scams getting much more sophisticated. There’s now a well-developed black market for stolen information. The Russians are into this big-time.

• We’re also seeing counterfeit routers and chips, and some of those chips have made their way into US military fighter aircraft.

This is America’s military and commerce on Chinese electronics. Any questions?

Obviously, the Chinese don’t play by the same rules as we do. And this does not appear to be to our advantage, to say the least. However, the Republicans say that we must live by the mantra of “Free Trade” — even if it kills us, I suppose.

But then, we’ve been giving stuff away to the Chinese for a long, long time. See:

Connecting Nuclear 9/11 Dots That Aren’t in the Headlines . . . or Ever Have Been. (updated)


P.S. Anyone know where the F-22 O2 system is made?  F-22 Woes Continue to Flummox Air Force

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