Study: New computer threat is emerging

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (UPI) — U.S. scientists say there might be another emerging treat to computing other than viruses and worms: malicious hardware could soon become a problem. Nearly all computer users are aware of viruses that can be downloaded either as an e-mail attachment or when someone visits a Web site.

But soon hackers could up the ante even further. Samuel King and colleagues at the University of Illinois have shown how hackers might gain control of a computer by adding malicious circuits to its processor. Because such circuits interfere with the computer at a deeper level than a virus, they effectively operate “below the radar” of antivirus software, said King. But the researchers said sneaking malicious hardware onto a chip isn’t as easy as installing a virus.

The attackers must either have access to a chip during its design or manufacture, or be capable of manufacturing their own chips. “It’s not something someone would carry out on weekends,” said King. However, King told New Scientist magazine said some Apple iPods and Seagate hard drives were recently found to have been sold with viruses pre-installed, demonstrating their vulnerability.

Copyright 2008 by United Press International
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