#BHEU: Can Time Be Hacked?
Time synchronization is a fragile ecosystem that is vulnerable to being hacked, with the potential for enormous damage to be caused. This was the message of Adam Laurie, global associate partner and lead hardware hacker, IBM X-Force Red, during the keynote address on day two of Black Hat Europe 2021.
Laurie pointed out that time has been a source of fascination for centuries, underpinning the scientific theories of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. Nowadays, accurate, centralized time is critical for the functioning of a number of important industries. This includes navigation, forensics (who did what when), cryptocurrency and blockchain (proof of work) and the transportation of trains, airplanes and automobiles. “You can go on and on, pretty much everything depends on it,” said Laurie.
To emphasize this further, he highlighted a UK report in 2017, which estimated the cost of the time synchronization system failing to be £1bn per day. Laurie observed this would even dwarf the financial costs of COVID-19. This issue has therefore come to the attention of government and big industry.
Worryingly, there is currently an overwhelming reliance on GPS for time synchronization, which was never intended to be the de facto standard for everything.