Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and chip smuggling: A very serious problem

Technology and weapons are two sectors that are increasingly united. I’m sure this won’t surprise most of our readers, but there is a major problem, and that is that countries like Russia have been buying consumer chips for use them in creating advanced weaponry.

You may be wondering where the problem is, and the explanation is very simple, in that the companies that sell these chips know that this is going to be the use that they are going to be given. Obviously, Russia does not tell these companies that it intends to use their chips to create advanced weapons because it knows that if it does, these they’re going to refuse to keep supplying you with those chips.

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has once again raised controversy on this issue, although the truth is that it is not something new. For example, one of the surveillance drones used by Russia years ago and recovered in 2016 used a Marvell chip. Costing just $2, the chip was sold en masse in 2009 to an Asian supplier, who sold it to another Asian firm that eventually went out of business.

That chain of suppliers, those changes of hands and even those closures of some of them makes impossible to track where the chips end upand makes it easier for these to end up having a use for which they had not been originally conceived.

Marvell’s example is just one of many that confirms what we’ve said, that chipmakers don’t have the ability to track where many of their low-end products end up, which could hamper the implementation of new US sanctions designed to stop the export of American technology to Russia.

High-end chips and the most advanced technology marketed differentlywhich makes it possible to maintain stricter control over its distribution, but with low-end technological equipment the opposite happens, and this is a problem, since it makes it easier for sanctioned countries, such as Russia, to have access to chips that are perfectly viable to continue manufacturing weapons.

Following the example we have given, part of these drones were not armed at the time, and now they are being used in a directly armed version in the Ukrainian war. Other types of weapons, including armored vehicles, guided missiles, helicopters and even fighter jets also need chips, and it seems that even the older versions are sufficient. These “old” chips also have the advantage of being extensively tested, and more reliable,

The point is that, in the end, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought this problem back to the table, that kind of “chip traffic” less advanced through a confusing distribution chain that, in the end, ends up being diluted like a spoonful of salt in evil, and that is impossible to control. Experts say that this is where it is necessary to act, and that different technical tools could be used to alleviate this problem, such as authentication keys.

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