In 1984 the Communications of the ACM published an article, Reflections on Trusting Trust. Which is an amazing, and disturbing read about software trust. The article begins with the exercise, “create a program which can replicate itself.” This leads deftly to the idea of modifying a compiler such that every time code is compiled it adds a security vulnerability. The author points out that this kind of problem in a compiler could and would be found rather quickly. However, it takes a compiler to compile a new compiler.

With this in mind, and the techniques in place for writing self replicating code, one could write a compiler that detected when it was compiling a new compiler and inject its self replicating code into the new compiler. Thompson certainly makes you question just how much you can trust your code - unless you fully control every aspect of your system.