Is China developing a “treacherous computing” CPU?

The Free Software Foundations defines treacherous computing thusly:

Who should your computer take its orders from? Most people think their computers should obey them, not obey someone else. With a plan they call “trusted computing”, large media corporations (including the movie companies and record companies), together with computer companies such as Microsoft and Intel, are planning to make your computer obey them instead of you.

“Treacherous computing” is a more appropriate name, because the plan is designed to make sure your computer will systematically disobey you.

China is considering building its own CPU architecture. I wonder if it will come with treacherous computing on-chip:

But, there are benefits to building your own CPU architecture. China, for example, could design an ISA (or microarchicture) with silicon-level monitoring and censorship — and, of course, a ubiquitous, always-open backdoor that can be used by Chinese intelligence agencies. The Great Firewall of China is fairly easy to circumvent — but what if China built a DNS and IP address blacklist into the hardware itself?

Taking a leaf out of South Korea’s hardcore gaming scene, what if the Chinese government decided to implement a hardware-level 10pm curfew for video games? Or some code that automatically turns negative mentions of Hu Jintao (the Chinese president) into positives, and inserts a few honorifics at the same time. Or a latent botnet of hundreds of millions of computers that can be activated upon the commencement of World War III.

As they say, we live in interesting times.

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One Response to Is China developing a “treacherous computing” CPU?

  1. interstar says:

    I’m thinking a lot about this. I’m wondering if it’s possible to write an intermediary level virtual machine which can sit between a treacherous substrata and your normal operating system and therefore mislead the treacherous level.

    If it’s possible for a virtual machine to hide the details of the lower level from the higher level, is it also possible to hide the details of the higher from the lower? Maybe if your intermediary knows enough about what’s going on at the low level but the low level doesn’t know what’s going on at the intermediary level. And the good thing about that is that software can be updated after the chip is released into your machine. The chip can’t adapt itself to the disguiseware but the disguiseware can be adapted for each new chip.

    My intuitions are currently flipping back and forth on this one. Certainly I don’t want to imply that treacherous computing isn’t a problem, or shouldn’t be addressed by politics. But I want a technical workaround as a backup.

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