Electronic component counterfeiting 'on the rise'

Counterfeiting of electronic components has increased four-fold since 2009, according to new data from market research firm IHS, which says the trade is presenting a "huge challenge" to the electronics, military and aerospace sectors.

IHS notes there have been 1,363 separate counterfeit-component incidents worldwide in 2011, likely accounting for millions of individual components, up from 324 in 2009. The increase has occurred despite US government efforts to tighten regulations covering fake components, it says.

A graph from the site shows that there was a slow increase of counterfeit incidents from 2001 to 2007, with a steady decrease from 2007 until 2009, when case numbers exploded.

Counterfeit components are often cheaply manufactured substitutes which fail to meet strict aerospace and military regulations, leading to potential breakages and failures and threatening lives.

"Furthermore, there are fears that some counterfeit devices like integrated circuits have the potential to act as malicious Trojan horses that could be disabled remotely, compromising defense capability at critical times," according to the report.

The cost of fixing a single counterfeit incident could be incredibly high. For example, the US Missile Defense Agency discovered that computers for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missiles contained possible counterfeit components which could have led to an entire system failing. The bill for rectifying the issue approached $2.7m.

In a bid to combat the trade, US President Barack Obama signed the 2012 National Defense Authorisation Act on December 31, 2011, which included a number of measures for counterfeit part detection and avoidance.

Some elements of the NDAA include:

  • Contractors are now responsible for detecting and avoiding the use or inclusion of counterfeit electronic parts or suspect counterfeit parts;
  • Contractors are also responsible for any rework or corrective action that may be required to remedy the use or inclusion of such parts;
  • Defense contracts will no longer allow the cost of counterfeit electronic parts and suspect counterfeit electronic parts or the cost associated with rework or corrective action to resolve the use or inclusion of such parts; and
  • Qualification procedures and processes must be established to use trusted suppliers and procure electronics from authorized suppliers.

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