From what I understand pretty much all Intel CPUs produced since Sandy-Bridge have "secret" 3G capabilities in their IME (Intel Management Engine). This IME has full access to the memory bus and pretty much your whole computer and there is no way to see or block it from your OS.

That sounds incredibly scary to me, as I have literally no way of knowing if my data is being leaked or if malicious code is injected into my system. I mean I can't even be sure to be safe by unplugging my Ethernet cable.

Is it possible that Intel got an NSL and has been forced to implement a backdoor for the NSA? How likely does it seem that Intel is abusing this? Can we disable the 3G connection?

  • 1
    If you wish to avoid IME and other closed source binary blobs on your computer you need to stick to computers like the Librem Laptops (see puri.sm for their blog posts on removing these binary blobs). As to the possibility that all/many recent laptops send data over 3G to some institution - that it likely infeasible even for a big institution.
    – Ned64
    Mar 31, 2017 at 13:12
  • 2
    The whole idea sounds silly. Can you even fit an antenna in a CPU, and make it work despite the huge noise? And how could an emitting radio chip be secret — if someone can receive the signal, then the signal can be detected! Apr 1, 2017 at 2:06
  • Just because Intel owns 3G IP does not mean they hide it in all their CPUs and chipsets just to enable spying on people. This is unfounded paranoia , especially when 3G enabled laptops exist and are clearly marked-up for that feature.
    – flakeshake
    Apr 2, 2017 at 9:52
  • I think you are referring to Intel's vPro chipsets. Yes what you are saying is true of them but there is so something that they need to do to activate it and it. And be done remotely. Also I am pretty sure they will need to be business class not consumers. This is known as a TPM module include with vPro. Jun 1, 2017 at 23:46
  • @flakeshake Just because Microsoft could embed a keylogger into Windows that sends all your keystrokes to them, doesn't mean they're doing it. Just because your ISP, Facebook, Google etc could get an NSL forcing them to give the NSA all your data, doesn't mean that this is happening. Just because your smartphones antennas could still be active even when airplane mode is enabled, doesn't mean that this is the case. Oh wait. - Paranoia? Nope. ... And btw @ Gilles I've seen the weirdest PCB antennas. I wouldn't be surprised if the chip could use a trace on the motherboard for this.
    – Forivin
    Jun 2, 2017 at 8:17

2 Answers 2


First thing, first: You'll want to invest in yet another Ethernet NIC adapter for your fancy Intel motherboard in which to replace your onboard Ethernet device with.

Most Ethernet NIC do not have IME. This takes care of your biggest security fear, as long as you do not plug anything to that onboard Ethernet port.


I would like to address an aspect of this question that hasn't been mentioned yet.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is how I interpret this question:

I believe the NSA may have backdoored most computers in the world; how do I protect myself against it?

The only answer to this question is "You can't".

Why limit our threat model just to the NSA, though? Why not add Mossad, PLASSF, the Illuminati, SCP Foundation, ${InsertNefariousAgencyName} to our list of threat actor? PLASSF seems especially plausible here, since most parts are manufactured in China.

I am saying this without irony - we the vast majority of people do not know what is actually going in the dark, clandestine world where politics meet intelligencies meet huge businesses. It goes without saying that there do exist unscrupulous, power hungry people and organizations that dwell there. We might not even know the names of all such agencies.

But whether they have backdoored most computers is irrelevant here. Even if you're right and the IME is a hardware backdoor that serves THEM - in the broadest sense of this world - and to protect yourself against THEM you disable the IME, THEM may have more, yet undiscovered hardware backdoors in your computer. And even if in some miraculous ways you disable these backdoors as well (or, more plausibly, just stop using any electronic devices whatsoever), then THEM will still have many more ways to exfiltrate your private data - including sending actual people to do what Harry Pfarrer thought was being done to him.

And if you do have enough knowledge / resources to actively oppose THEM, then you are Edward Snowden and are not asking such questions on this site.

While you cannot make THEM stop spying on you if THEM wish to do so, you might be successful in making THEM interested in your person by trying your best to hide something from THEM. Imagine you walk past your child, if you have any. Now you see your child immediately turn their back on you (in the literal sense), bend, cross their arms, clearly holding something and trying to not let you see what exactly - aren't you immediately concerned what the kid may be trying to hide?

You can defend against THEM by not sparking THEM's interest in you. The vast majority of people successfully do that.

Note: Again, I am not even trying to discuss any possible secret 3G communication in Intel devices. I am, however, questioning the validity of the OP's threat model. I realize that questions like these have important academic value and raise perhaps even more important privacy concerns, which is a very important (sorry...) subject of public debate, nonetheless I think that it still needs to be pointed out that the practical value of such questions (ie. "how can an average person such as me protect their privacy against this") is virtually nil.

  • THEM already has sparked interest in literally every human being on earth. If you don't take action, you literally are being spied on. That is a provable fact. See PRISM, XKeyscore, the Upstream Collection programs, FASCIA, Dishfire, Optic Nerve, Boundless Informant, etc. Anything you give up can and will be used against you. So you are way better off giving up the least amount of data. Eg using e2e encrypted chat apps like WhatsApp over unencrypted email will vastly reduce your chance of getting falsely flagged as a terrorist by some arbitrary algorithm that has proven to be 100% ineffective.
    – Forivin
    Oct 4, 2022 at 22:55
  • @Forivin Wait a minute... You worry about agencies and megacorporations inserting backdoors to attack you, but then you suggest using WhatsApp that is... owned by Facebook? How does this make any sense? This aside: Don't you think that using Tor, Signal, disabling IME, taking other such measures is likely to automatically flag you by these arbitrary algorithms?
    – gaazkam
    Oct 5, 2022 at 5:43
  • I'm saying WhatsApp is more secure than unencrypted email. Your unencrypted emails are intercepted, your WhatsApp messages, for the time being, are e2e encrypted. I'm not suggesting using WA over Signal. I'm saying if you use unencrypted email or Telegram which is not e2e encrypted by default, your messages will be intercepted and the content will be interpreted against you. Less is more. Look at the Snowden leaks, people have been flagged for the most ridiculous reasons with a 100% false-positive rate. No terrorist attacks have been prevented by the NSA according to the white house itself.
    – Forivin
    Oct 5, 2022 at 8:53
  • @Forivin If I remember correctly from Snowden leaks, using Tor or just Linux is one of those most ridiculous reasons to flag people as suspicious...
    – gaazkam
    Oct 5, 2022 at 19:07

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