PARC engineers must be huge fans of the Mission: Impossible franchise if they developed a self-destructing CPU. This way, sensitive information can no longer be compromised, as the computer chip can blow itself up on command.
Previously known as Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated), the R&D subsidiary specialized in hardware systems and IT took a challenge that DARPA initially made for IBM last year: to create a self-destructing computer chip. Made out of heavily stressed Gorilla Glass, the CPU shatters in certain situations. The triggering factors range from heat to radio waves, and I assume that multiple triggers can be implemented so if one fails another succeeds.
As mentioned before, DARPA actually asked IBM to develop self-destructing hardware last year, with obvious applications in the military. PARC took the dare and unveiled the self-destructing chip at the DARPA Wait, What? event last week. When it comes to protecting sensitive information on computers, encryption is rarely sufficient, and hackers can be quite resourceful nowadays. Because of that, the physical destruction of the mediums carrying the sensitive data is mandatory.
“We take the glass and we ion-exchange temper it to build in stress,” explained PARC scientist Gregory Whiting in an interview with PC World. The report includes further details on how exactly the CPU self-destructs: “The glass was stressed to breaking point by heat. When a circuit was switched on, a small resistor heated up and the glass shattered into thousands of pieces. Even after it broke up, stress remained in the fragments and they continued breaking into even smaller pieces for tens of seconds afterwards.”
For proper protection, the self-destructing CPU would have to be irreplaceable. On top of that, it would have to damage some of the surrounding hardware, so that nothing gets compromised. For the military, the development of such self-destructing hardware can only be good news, but the general public has already started making jokes on this, stating that the Xbox 360 could do this as well, or asking how long it will take until such self-destructing glass makes its way into sunglasses. That would definitely be a great way of taking out targets, assuming that the technology doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, in the first place.
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