The Top 10 White-Hat Hacks

By Jordan Robertson - 2014-07-23T01:49:30Z

Photograph  by Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

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Broken Trust

Christopher Tarnovsky is known for tackling difficult hardware-hacking projects. In 2010, the former U.S. Army computer-security specialist showed how he could break into the Trusted Platform Module chips, which are considered among the most secure technologies on the planet.

The chips sit inside millions of personal computers and encrypt data so outsiders can't see it. They are used primarily by businesses and government agencies with high security concerns. The chips must be activated with a password or fingerprint, and people who don't use them don't even know they're there.

The hack was comically hard: Tarnovsky had to soak the chips in acid to dissolve their hard outer shells; apply rust remover to strip off layers of mesh wiring; and find the right communications channels to tap into using a very small needle.

The attack was downplayed by industry groups as being difficult to replicate except by highly skilled individuals. But as we've learned from the National Security Agency spying scandal, highly motivated individuals will spare little expense or effort in obtaining coveted sensitive information.