US gov't seeks counterfeit chip detector

SHIELD imageThe US government is asking engineers to develop a nearly microscopic-sized component that could be used to identify counterfeit or otherwise illicit electronic parts.

The Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has published a call for proposals to develop a microscopic component - dubbed a dielet - that could be used to verify the authenticity of electronic components "at any step of the supply chain."

The dielets should contain a full encryption engine, sensors to detect tampering and would readily affix to today’s electronic components such as microchips - but only cost less than a penny per unit, according to DARPA programme manager Kerry Bernstein.

It should be affixed to the component or chip during manufacturing - with no electrical connection to the device - and be suitable for verification either in the field using a handheld scanner or in buld using an automated system, according to DARPA's Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronics Defense (SHIELD) unit.

According to DARPA more than one million suspect electronic parts have been found in the defense supply chain over the last two years, and theoretically placing systems at risk of failure "that can put warfighter lives and missions at risk."

At the moment the US DoD is using other means such as DNA-marking to try to defend its supply chains from counterfeits and substandard components and used items that have been recycled and sold as new.

Other tricks used by those seeking to defraud defense contracts include selling parts marked with falsely elevated reliability or newer date of manufacture, parts which include hidden functionality and producing runs of authorised components that exceed the legal license.

 "The dielet will be designed to be robust in operation, yet fragile in the face of tampering," said Bernstein.

"What SHIELD is seeking is a very advanced piece of hardware that will offer an on-demand authentication method never before available to the supply chain."

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