Sunday, November 26, 2023

Cavium Networking Hardware May Contain Backdoor

Bruce Schneier:

Jake Appelbaum’s PhD thesis contains several new revelations from the classified NSA documents provided to journalists by Edward Snowden.

Stefania Maurizi:

Communication in a world of pervasive surveillance is a public document and has been downloaded over 18,000 times since March 2022 when it was first published.


In 2013, Jacob Appelbaum published a remarkable scoop for Der Spiegel, revealing the NSA had spied on Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. This scoop won him the highest journalistic award in Germany, the Nannen Prize (later known as the Stern Award).

Nevertheless, his work on the NSA revelations, and his advocacy for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, as well as other high-profile whistleblowers, has put him in a precarious condition. As a result of this, he has resettled in Berlin, where he has spent the past decade.

Thomas Claburn:

Cavium, a maker of semiconductors acquired in 2018 by Marvell, was allegedly identified in documents leaked in 2013 by Edward Snowden as a vendor of semiconductors backdoored for US intelligence. Marvell denies it or Cavium placed backdoors in products at the behest of the US government.


In a phone conversation, Appelbaum told The Register, “Marvell is answering a question that no one asked.” He explained further in an email, essentially arguing that Marvell may have inadvertently backdoored its equipment by implementing weak and exploitable algorithms, such as the infamous Dual EC DRBG, that were championed by the US government so that they would be adopted by suppliers and deployed in the wild possibly for snoops to abuse.


“As far as I know, Marvell has not reported performing an internal audit on the intellectual property that they acquired from Cavium to search for any NSA sabotage, nor have they reported performing a similar audit on Marvell related technologies,” he said.

Matthew Green (Hacker News):

To give some context, here are the contents of an initial Snowden leak from September 2013. Cavium was a leading manufacturer of cryptographic co-processors for VPN devices at that time.


The formal name for this stuff is “algorithm substitution attacks.” Basically, you replace a cryptographic algorithm with a different one that “looks the same” from the outside, but contains a trapdoor for the NSA to exploit.

Appelbaum’s thesis is available here and contains this passage:

In a related document the NSA describes a normal situation where the NSA intercepts VPN traffic to decrypt the contents, modify the traffic if desired, and then re-inject and re-encrypt the traffic to send on to the original destination. The NSA estimated in 2011 that they performed around one thousand attacks against VPN sessions per hour and NSA projected it would soon be performing one hundred thousand such attacks in parallel per hour. It is reasonable to assume that this number is significantly higher after more than a decade.


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