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Technology

Toshiba's detector sniffs out spy chips lurking in hardware

Developed with Waseda University, tool can produce results in two weeks

Spy chips can be used to take control or cause malfunction in hardware in which they are embedded.

TOKYO -- In an age when corporations and governments have become increasingly targeted by cyberattacks, Toshiba and Japan's Waseda University have teamed up to develop a system that can detect so-called spy chips, tiny intruders in servers that are barely visible to the naked eye or are even incorporated in circuitry.

Spy chips made headlines about two years ago when China allegedly planted the devices into servers, which reportedly reached 30 American companies. The tool, called HTfinder, determines if a semiconductor contains spy chips based on the makeup of the circuits.

Toshiba subsidiary Toshiba Information Systems had recently launched a service that handles detection and analysis.

HTfinder can produce results in roughly two weeks. Fees are expected to hover around 2 million yen ($19,444) per product analyzed, though rates will differ depending on the type of hardware.

Spy chips can be hidden in semiconductors and circuit boards by resembling part of the circuit. The chips can receive signals so that third parties can take control or cause a device to malfunction at any given time.

With semiconductor circuit designs becoming more complex, design work is increasingly being shared between different actors. It is at this stage that spy chips can potentially be embedded into the circuits.

Conventional cyberattacks normally rely on malware to facilitate breaches. The cybersecurity industry is said to be raising alarms on spy chips since they can be mass produced and difficult to trace.

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