A backdoor is a method, often secret, of bypassing normal authentication or encryption in a computer system, a product, or an embedded device (e.g. a home router), or its embodiment, e.g. as part of a cryptosystem, an algorithm, a chipset, or a “homunculus computer” —a tiny computer-within-a-computer (such as that as found in Intel’s AMT technology).Backdoors are often used for securing remote access to a computer, or obtaining access to plaintext in cryptographic systems.
A backdoor may take the form of a hidden part of a program one uses, a separate program (e.g. Back Orifice may subvert the system through a rootkit), or code in the firmware of one’s hardware or parts of one’s operating system such as Microsoft Windows. Although normally surreptitiously installed, in some cases backdoors are deliberate and widely known. These kinds of backdoors might have “legitimate” uses such as providing the manufacturer with a way to restore user passwords.
Default passwords (or other default credentials) can function as backdoors if they are not changed by the user. Some debugging features can also act as backdoors if they are not removed in the release version.
In 1993 the United States government attempted to deploy an encryption system, the Clipper chip, with an explicit backdoor for law enforcement and national security access. The chip was unsuccessful.