That laptop on your desk or that server on a data center rack isn’t so much a computer as a network of them. Its interconnected devices—from hard drives to webcams to trackpads, largely sourced from third parties—have their own dedicated chips and code. That represents a serious security problem: Despite years of warnings, those computers inside your computer remain disturbingly unprotected, offering an insidious and nearly undetectable way for sophisticated hackers to maintain a foothold inside your machine. A slew of network cards, trackpads, Wi-Fi adapters, USB hubs, and webcams all had firmware that could be updated with “unsigned” code that lacks any cryptographic verification. In other words, it could be rewritten without any security check.
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