Spotlight Podcast: Intel’s Matt Areno – Supply Chain is the New Security Battlefield

In this Spotlight Podcast, sponsored by The Trusted Computing Group, we speak with Matthew Areno, a Principal Engineer in the Intel Product Assurance and Security (IPAS) group about the fast-changing landscape of cyber threats including attacks on hardware and software supply chains.

It’s funny that one of the most controversial stories about supply chain security, Bloomberg Businessweek’s scoop on “spy chips” on motherboards by the firm Super Micro that infiltrated “more than 30 companies” is remembered less for what it said than the staunch denials it provoked.

Matthew Areno is a Principal Engineer in the Intel Product Assurance and Security (IPAS) group at Intel.

Whether or not that story was accurate, however, security experts have long agreed that the threat it describes is real – and growing. The deep reliance of the high tech industry on software and hardware supply chains that originate in nations like China has created the conditions for compromised technology to infiltrate U.S. homes, businesses and governments at all level.

Unfortunately, the information security industry has been slow to respond. Companies spend billions of dollars on information security tools and technology every year. But much of that spending is for fighting “the last war:” viruses, spam, application- and denial of service attacks and so on.

Cyber: Fighting the Last War

Our guest this week is here to tell you that those aren’t even close to being the only kinds of threats organizations need to worry about. Matthew Areno spent years conducting both offensive and defensive research at some of the most sophisticated and targeted firms in the world: Sandia National Labs in New Mexico and defense contractor Raytheon among them.

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Areno, who now works at Intel, where he is a Principal Engineer in the Intel Product Assurance and Security (IPAS) group, says his work at companies that were in the crosshairs of nation-state actors opened his eyes to “what was possible” in cyber offense. It also taught him how organizations – even sophisticated ones – often fail to discern the full spectrum of possible attacks on their security, with dire consequences. 

A Range of Supply Chain Threats

Supply chain attacks could run the gamut from degrading the performance of a sensor to exfiltrating sensitive data to denial of service attacks. “And these attacks can happen at any point in the lifecycle of these products,” Areno told me. That includes attacks on the design network that manufacturers use, attacks on shared or open source software components and – as with SuperMicro- the introduction of malicious components during manufacturing, which is an issue that Areno said is still probably more hype than reality – even if component piracy and counterfeiting is not.

“When we’re sendings our designs over the seas, how much confidence and how much trust do we have that what we sent to them is what we got back,” Areno wonders.

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In this podcast, Matt and I talk about where the new front lines in cyber security fall and how companies need to re-think their approach to security in order to address the changing threat.

We also talk about Matt’s work with the Trusted Computing Group where he helps develop technologies that make it easier to protect against threats like attacks on device firmware and hardware supply chains by building a hardware based root of trust that can be a foundation for the security of entire products and product ecosystems. 

(*) Disclosure: This podcast and blog post were sponsored by Trusted Computing Group. For more information on how Security Ledger works with its sponsors and sponsored content on Security Ledger, check out our About Security Ledger page on sponsorships and sponsor relations. 

As always,  you can check our full conversation in our latest Security Ledger podcast at Blubrry. You can also listen to it on iTunes and check us out on SoundCloudStitcherRadio Public and more. Also: if you enjoy this podcast, consider signing up to receive it in your email. Just point your web browser to to get notified whenever a new podcast is posted.