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Expert Says NSA Have Backdoors Built Into Intel And AMD Processors

/ 4 years ago


In an interesting story covered by the Australian Financial Review it is revealed that experts think the NSA has hardware level backdoors built into Intel and AMD processors. Steve Blank, recognised as one of Silicon Valleys leading experts, says that he would be extremely surprised if the American NSA does not have backdoors built into Intel and AMD chips. His reason is that the NSA finds “hacking” through backdoors significantly more simple than trying to crack encryption. For example trying to crack AES 256 bit encryption would require the power of 10 million suns to crack at the current TDP of processors. Steve Blank therefore claims that because cracking encryption is so infeasible the NSA uses hardware level backdoors instead. Steve Blank said that these suspicions arose when he saw the NSA could access Microsoft emails in their pre-encryption state and so he knew there was another way in.

Edit: Jonathan Brossard personally got into contact with us to inform us that such statements made by the AFR about his opinions and research were indeed misleading and not factually accurate at all. Jonathan Brossard claims that if you read his whitepaper from the Black Hat 2012 conference, which can be found here, it will give a totally different understanding of what he was actually saying as opposed to what the AFR interpreted him as saying. We would like to apologise for passing information onto you from the AFR that was factually inaccurate. Jonathan Brossard stated that:

“The CPU microcode update mechanism is a documented feature which helps Intel and AMD fix CPU bugs. Even if this would be an interesting attack vector, you must break strong asymmetric cryptography before you get to push microcode updates to a CPU. The article from the Australian Financial Review is misleading, and doesn’t bring the slightest proof that Intel or AMD are sharing those cryptographic keys with [the] NSA. I do not personally think [the] NSA is backdooring Intel (or AMDs) CPUs.”

Though after all that there are of course those who will say this is complete nonsense and that the reason it is undetectable is because it does not exist and it is just conspiracy theory. Indeed Intel has denied such speculation.

I myself am not sure what to make of all this but what do you think? Does the NSA have a hardware level backdoor built into every modern Intel and AMD CPU?

Image courtesy of WCCFTech, Information from via WCCFTech

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  • Michael Doherty

    Of course they do.

  • Wayne

    I was afraid of this and that’s why I still use a 33 MHz i286 processor along with SLi’d GTX Titans for 4 k gaming. 😛

    • Yoloswaggins

      All that PCIe bandwidth
      Oh wait
      I mean AGP

      • Shane Nokes

        AGP on a 286? Surely you mean ISA Master Swaggins…heh

    • Androgynous Cowherd

      You must have overclocked your 80286 because I thought that my 25 MHz Harris Semiconductor part was the fastest 286 ever made.

  • Seb

    Yes, everyone is out to get me and I’m debating going to live in the Scottish Highlands as a hermit in a stone hut.

  • bamboozle

    Yes, yes they do.

  • Alistair Hardy

    While plausible, it’s a bit tin foil hat.
    It makes sense that they would want such a thing but i would of thought security experts would have located such a thing by now.

    • Shane Nokes

      It’s not even plausible tbh. This is in the same realm of plausibility as the ‘two idiots, one keyboard’ clip from NCIS…except even that is more plausible than this.

      • Alistair Hardy

        Hardware backdoors are completely plausible. if you look at the amount of code architecture Instruction Sets (x86-64, SSE 4.1/4.2, AVX 2.0 etcetc), it wouldn’t be hard to have an instruction embedded in there to allow for such a thing. like i said, completely plausible, just very unlikely.

    • jp

      not too mention the ability to actually take advantage of it on live systems is not in the realm of possibility. in theory it might help gain access to data on a subset of systems that they have in their physical possession. the groups they need data on aren’t going to be using cpu optimizations on their encryption algorithms on sensitive data for precisely this reason. and they can’t use this on live systems as they don’t have the resources necessary to backdoor all of the global internet infrastructure. as they cannot attempting to utilize it would not get through a consumer router let alone any secure designed systems. it would also lead to very quick discovery when it does get stopped at the network level.

  • phillys

    the nsa is gonna be the real world skynet in my opinion they want to much control on our freedoms

  • ash

    *rolleyes* This is just too far-fetched.

    • god

      Too far fetched for an organization like the NSA that is spying on everything? It’s reality.

    • Idon’t Know

      You obviously don’t read the news.

    • Really? Ask the employees at the Utah Data Center! 😉

  • Dad

    I’m a little confused about why they would bother. There are at least 3 levels of abstraction between my CPU and the NSA. There’s the internet, then the OS then a kernal. Even encrypted e-mails are in plain text on my hard drive and in memory. So its kind of like saying ‘The government has nukes!’ when in fact they also have knives, guns, hand grenades and all other sorts of things they can kill me with. If it bothers you, run Linux, problem solved.

    • Alistair Hardy

      the NSA have developed code that has been put into the linux kernal. look it up 😛

        • Dad

          Yes they have, the NSA developed quite a bit of Linux’s security suite. While I’m not qualified to audit the NSA’s work, anyone who wishes can view the source code. The NSA, just like any 3 letter agency is capable of doing 2 things at once. In this case simultaneously working to secure American computer infrastructure against attack from ‘cyber-terrorists’ and recording everything that has ever been transmitted over copper since “Watson, come here I need you”.

  • Andrew Delamarter

    Raspberry Pi for the win.

  • alizardx

    Perhaps an Open Source CPU, etc. reverse engineering program could settle this. All this article contains is guesses. It;s possible, but hardly established fact.

  • Soldier

    American Government is disgusting and corrupt.

  • Remember when you were a kid, and Mom & Dad LEFT for a few days, and you went nuts with all the yummy foods, even alcohol? Had friends over, cooked stuff you were not able to cook while PARENTS were home? Mischief, right? Multiply that by ba-zillions, and THAT is what I think happened to our GOV! So… I think the NSA/GOV would sample my stool if given the chance? YES!

  • gb

    Ok, let’s assume that there is this backdoor and that the NSA can use it to gain access to servers … and then what? Is there a kind of magic packet can go through any type of network equipment, firewalls, and other probes of any brand and manufacturer and of any country without a trace?

    Is there some research that can provide some concrete data without digital legends of unicorns? 🙂

    • oplix

      agreed. I think this is more of a situation where encrypted data that is physically possessed by NSA can be accessed.

  • wardmundy

    Back to sleep little sheep. No need to worry.

  • haramati

    lmfao. and someone showed the 2048 embedded key in all microcode updates.. and it is hilarious to think of those who haven’t get actually got that NSA do* have access to the keys. When openssl was back-doored recently, they had ot sign 200 NDA’s. WIth their 2013 budget to subterfuge both US and non US tech firms, they have 250 million US dollars to do so…. Intel and AMD being American have no say. Actually, it is quite so ironic, the saying “google is your _friend_”.

    Ain’t no tin-foil stuff any longer with a neo-facist state unfortunately.

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  • dissentist

    Yeah! And they power it with their perpetual motion machine!

    Does it hurt to be that stupid? I imagine it feels great thinking everything you read on the internet is true, does it?

  • unity100

    “and doesn’t bring the slightest proof that Intel or AMD are sharing those cryptographic keys with [the] NSA”

    Yeah, my ass they arent. As if they have any option after Patriot Act, NDAA… They cant even tell about it.