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equipment destruction attack

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

An equipment destruction attack, also known as a hardware destruction attack, is an exploit that destroys physical computer and electronic equipment.

Equipment destruction attacks can be enabled simply as a result of physical access to the computer hardware, along with a tool for attack – which could also be as simple as a hammer or a cup of coffee. However, remotely-initiated malware can also be used to destroy computer equipment. It’s commonly believed that malware cannot affect computer hardware and that a format of the hard disk is the most extreme measure required to fix an issue. In reality, however, a number of equipment destruction attacks have been fully documented.

Stuxnet is one vivid example of a hardware destruction attack. Stuxnet is a worm rootkit that affects Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. SCADA systems control water and sewage plants, telecommunications, oil and gas refining systems as well as nuclear and other power plants. According to an article in the New York Times, it is likely that the United States and Israeli governments developed Stuxnet as a joint project. According to the authors, Israel has used the malware to attack Iranian nuclear power plant centrifuges, destroying several of them.

A few other examples:

  • Using equipment similar to a frequency jammer, an attacker can use an over-powered and focused radio signal to break sensitive chips in Wi-Fi access points.
  • At an RSA security conference demo, security company Crowdstrike forged an Apple firmware update for the Macintosh ACPI (advanced configuration and power interface) embedded controller. The forged update contained code that stuck CPU usage at 100 percent and turned off the device’s fans. A number of components were destroyed by heat and the systems were rendered unusable.
  • The same level of control demonstrated by Crowdstrike is available to BadBIOS, which could easily enable similar methods for hardware destruction.
This was last updated in July 2014

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