DARPA awards three contracts in anti-counterfeit programme

SHIELD imageThe US Department of Defense's research arm has awarded three contracts to technology suppliers as part of its SHIELD anti-counterfeiting programme.

Since the start of the month, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has granted a $12.3m contract to Northrop Grumman Systems, $6.8m to SRI International and $4.1m to the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory to help develop tiny components that could be used to identify counterfeit or otherwise illicit electronic parts.

DARPA published a call for proposals last year for organisations that could develop a microscopic, 100x100 micron component - dubbed a 'dielet' - that could be used to verify the authenticity of electronic components "at any step of the supply chain."

SHIELD (Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronics Defense) wants the dielets to be encrypted, make use of near-field power, detect tampering and have no electronic connection to the electronic component - but cost less than a penny per unit. They should be added to components at the point of manufacture and be detectable using handheld probes at any point in the supply chain.

As might be expected details of the awards remain sketchy, although DARPA revealed that the contractors are expected to complete their projects by the middle of 2016.

SRI's award is the second from DARPA in recent months, as last September the company was contracted by the government agency to provide advanced scanning optical mMicroscope (ASOM) technology to the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Crane, Indiana, where it is being used forensic analysis of microelectronics, including integrated circuits (IC) confiscated by law enforcement officials.

Over the past 50 years, the worldwide IC market has expanded dramatically, according to DARPA, which notes that in 2013, the import value of ICs into the US was $231bn, a 20 per cent increase on the prior year.

As a result of the globalization of the marketplace, most US production of advanced circuits has moved to offshore foundries in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Japan and China, which has helped cut prices but made ensuring the integrity of circuitry components increasingly difficult.

The dielet programme will help the DoD guard against use by the military of recycled components that are sold as new, substandard and counterfeit copies, unlicensed overproduction of authorised components, the infiltration of rejects into the supply chain and ICs infiltrated by added components with hidden functionalities.

In June 2014 Massachusetts-based distributor Peter Picone pleaded guilty to trafficking in falsified ICs that had been resurfaced to change the date code and to affix counterfeit marks and ended up in military equipment. The counterfeit parts bore the trademarks of legitimate companies such as Xilinx, National Semiconductor and Motorola.

Meanwhile, last July, security firm TrapX reported that it had identified malware that had been installed on Microsoft Windows-based scanners manufactured in China and sold to US logistics firms.

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