"Unhackable" Infineon chip physically cracked

A secure chip used for preserving secrets on PCs and protecting Microsoft technology has been physically compromised

Former US military security specialist Christopher Tarnovsky found a weakness in Infineon's SLE66 CL PE and presented the results of his hack at the Black Hat 2010 computer security conference. The Infineon chip is used in PCs, satellite TV hardware, and gaming consoles to protect secure data.

Tarnovsky, who works for security firm Flylogic, said that cracking the Infineon chip, which has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) designation, was a long processes involving an electronic microscope (retails for around $70,000). The attack on the chip took six months to plan and execute, and it included dissolving the outer part of the chip with acid and using tiny needles to eavesdrop on the chip's programming instructions.

Despite physically accessing the chip, Tarnovsky still had to navigate the chip's software defenses. According to the AP, Tarnovsky remarked that "This chip is mean, man--it's like a ticking time bomb if you don't do something right."

Does this mean that Infineon's flagship secure chip has been entirely compromised? Infineon was aware that a physical hack was possible, but that an attack of this variety would require resources beyond that of the typical cracker. Joerg Borchert, a VP of security at Infineon, told the AP that, as this attack requires physical access to the chip, a smart hacker, and expensive equipment, "the risk is manageable, and you are just attacking one computer."

Will we start seeing peripherals that for the Xbox that take advantage of this hack? Maybe, but don't count on it unless you know hackers who are willing to shell out almost $100,000 for the electron microscope and other equipment necessary for compromising the Infineon chip.

Follow GeekTech on Twitter or Facebook.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags pc componentssecurity

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Alessondra Springmann

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Deals on PC World

Deals on PC World


Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.


Latest Jobs


Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?