Can a Cyberattack Cause Physical Damage to Your Hardware?

Organizations are more aware than ever before of the possible financial effect of a cyberattack. Many people mistakenly believe that a cyberattack's high financial cost is only due to damaged digital assets, lost documents, and the cost of investigating and reporting a breach. While those costs are high, damage to an organization's physical assets can be equally damaging.

Cyberattacks that cause physical injury are widespread when a hacker gets access to a computer system that controls equipment in a manufacturing plant, electric generating plant, or other similar operations. After gaining access to an organization's machinery, the hacker can use it to cause damage to it or other property.

These types of incidents can cause substantial disruptions as well as significant financial losses. Organizations must understand what types of enterprises and assets are vulnerable to these attacks in order to protect their physical assets.

What is in Jeopardy?

It's helpful to compare cyberattacks to natural disasters or other industrial accidents to better comprehend the kind of physical losses that can occur as a result of a breach. Organizations frequently pay costs to repair and replace damaged equipment as a result of these types of occurrences, in addition to any revenue lost as a result of the disruption.

Cyberattacks that cause physical damage, unlike natural catastrophes, are not limited to a certain geographic place and can affect an entire network. It means that depending on the target, the consequences of a breach can be vast, affecting numerous sectors of the economy.

As a result, cyberattacks that cause physical harm are frequently dynamic and widespread. When essential infrastructure is attacked, it affects not only business owners and operators but also suppliers, stakeholders, and customers.

What Factors Are Influencing Global Hardware Security?

To secure the continued health of our increasingly interconnected world, recent global trends in industry, technology, and geopolitics call for stronger attention to hardware security.

Industrial Trends

Over the last few decades, globalization has revolutionized the semiconductor sector. Original equipment manufacturers have outsourced manufacturing to dedicated suppliers and shifted their assembly plants and foundries to less expensive geographic regions to take advantage of economies of scale.

Only three companies (TSMC, Samsung, and Intel) maintain state-of-the-art foundries in the semiconductor business, which has seen a 90% reduction in the number of companies with cutting-edge fabrication capabilities.

Technology Trends

The rising cost of modern semiconductor manufacture reflects the fact that process innovation and improved hardware architectural design have substantially fueled semiconductor technology advancement. Since its development in the 1960s, basic semiconductor technology has remained mostly unchanged. Advanced manufacturing and novel designs, on the other hand, enable smaller semiconductor devices to be packed with increasing density to increase processing power.

The semiconductor industry has become so adept at reducing feature size that it has hit a snag in the underlying physics; any further reductions will inevitably result in undesired quantum mechanical consequences.

Geopolitical Trends

For high-tech industries and economic growth, all nations and their economies are becoming increasingly reliant on advanced semiconductor-based technology. This is mirrored in the technological investments of well-resourced countries that are focusing on creating crucial technical skills and production capabilities in order to strengthen their semiconductor manufacturing and innovation base.

As a result, the technical personnel and component manufacturing capabilities have been concentrated in a few countries throughout the world. This has resulted in the present semiconductor innovation and fabrication paradigm of haves and have-nots. The continued competition among resourced nations to lead in semiconductor manufacturing technology and innovation has an impact on hardware security due to changes in supply chain monitoring and control.

What Are the Risks of Software Causing Physical Harm?

It's easy to see how a sledgehammer, for example, may cause physical harm to your computer. But what about a piece of software? It is theoretically possible, but it would necessitate circumventing several levels of security. Here are a few ideas that might work for you (though note that none have ever happened on a modern computer).

Exercising the CPU too much might cause it to overheat, which can potentially harm it. Fans in your computer, of course, assist in cooling the CPU, and most CPUs are built to shut down when they reach dangerously high temperatures (thermal shutdown). To say the least, such an attack would have to be quite sophisticated. In theory, over-exerting the GPU could work, albeit with the same caveats as the GPU.

Flashing the BIOS and/or firmware on your computer could effectively brick the motherboard, rendering it unusable (but otherwise leaving it undamaged). Other alternatives exist, the majority of which are considerably more remote than these. However, don't be alarmed if all of this sounds terrifying: none of it has ever happened!

Updated on: 16-Aug-2022


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