Is this threat real? Well, those British researchers say so, and they'll sell you the gear to scan your chips using their patented technology. So no bias there. But it was only a few years ago that the FBI discovered counterfeit network gear had been sold to the U.S. military. While the chip backdoors may not have materialized, certainly the attack vector exists and it should be a cause for concern.
But that wasn't William's point:
The researcher who found the "backdoor" is either being misleading or conflating Taiwan with mainland China. There are a variety of legal restrictions that ensure mainland Chinese semiconductor foundries will not make chips for the military of ANY country. (I can go into more detail on this if you're curious.) It's also hard to believe that a foundry in any country would tamper with a customer's design--the loss of customers' trust could destroy the foundry's business.Hmmm... that makes me ask the question, just how many fabs are in mainland China? According to this map from 2009, not too many. But there is a trend, and its not good for the U.S. According to a 2010 report from the Center for Public Policy Innovation:
Sixteen semiconductor wafer (fab) plants began construction in 2009, only one of them in the U.S. Seven of those fabs will produce light-emitting diodes (the most promising energy-saving technology developed in 50 years), none of which will be built on U.S. soil. China led the world, constructing six fab plants, Taiwan began construction of five, while Korea, Japan, the E.U. and Southeast Asia each began construction of one plant.So have the Chinese put backdoors in computer chips? William is right in hinting that the circumstances aren't right for that type of exploit right now. However, in 10 years it maybe that most of the fabs are in China and the opportunity will be ripe.