Soldering spy chips inside firewalls is now a cheap hack
The tiny ATtiny85 chip doesn’t look like the next big cyberthreat facing the world, but sneaking one on to a firewall motherboard would be bad news for security were it to happen.
In fact, this has already happened as part of a project by researcher Monta Elkins, designed to prove that this sort of high-end hardware hack is no longer the preserve of nation-states.
Elkins soldered the 5mm x 5mm ATtiny85 chip from an Arduino board to his test firewall’s circuit board just in front of the system’s serial port.
After reading his account of the proof of concept in Wired, it’s not hard to grasp why soldering tiny chips to circuit boards is a threat – they’re impossible to see let alone detect once they’re installed inside equipment.
The proof of concept is also cheap, requiring little more than some knowhow, access to the supply chain of current products, and a few hundred dollars for parts.
Rumours of secret chips, or secret interfaces on legitimate chips, have long been the stuff of legend, but the implication of Elkin’s work is that anyone could now do this.