3 Technologies U.S. Defense Agencies Are Using to Battle Counterfeit Chips
As U.S. imports of semiconductors and related devices have continued to surge in recent years, so too has the threat of counterfeit electronics components entering the supply chain.
And while the risk of using a laptop or tablet with a faulty chip installed might involve only a loss of data or functionality, military and medical applications built with compromised electronics can risk death. That’s one reason why the U.S. defense sector has taken a lead role in investing in new technologies to test and authenticate electronic components.
A 2011/2012 Senate Armed Services Committee investigation helped bring the issue to the forefront. The committee identified approximately 1,800 instances of suspect counterfeit parts in the defense supply chain. Those parts were supplied by more than 650 companies, each of which relied on its own network of suppliers.
A review of test reports associated with the suspect counterfeit parts further revealed “wide disparities in testing used by companies in the defense supply chain.” Some companies required, for example, exposing a part to aggressive solvents to determine whether markings were authentic or delidding part samples to examine the die. Other companies, the Committee found, were willing to accept components that had been subject to only “basic functional testing.”
The investigation also revealed deficiencies in the processes used to determine whether and how parts were tested. In one case involving counterfeit memory chips sold to L-3 Communications, a Chinese supplier sent the company’s U.S.-based distributor a sample of 18 parts to test. After testing had validated the sample as authentic, L-3 purchased more than 10,000 chips without additional testing from an independent laboratory.
While the U.S. Department of Defense has since published rules detailing the procedures that contractors should follow to help prevent counterfeit electronic parts from entering the defense supply chain, a number of agencies are now also working to develop new counterfeit prevention and detection technologies. If they prove successful—and can be made commercially available at a low-enough price point—these techniques could help secure supply chains for consumer electronics and other civilian applications.
- Plant DNA Marking – the proprietary technology, from Applied DNA Sciences, involves rearranging DNA derived from plants into unique sequences that are encrypted and affixed to batches of chips or other components to establish their authenticity.
- Optical Scanning – optical scanning technology that can assist in identifying counterfeit electronic components in the absence of external barcodes or tags
- DARPA Shield – a tool to verify the trustworthiness of protected electronic components without harming or disrupting them.
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