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DARPA wants help to counter counterfeits

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DARPA is seeking vendor input into a program designed to defeat the problem of counterfeit electronic components.

As the agency states in its announcement, the provenance of electronics components is a big deal in the military, since a component failure can endanger (for example) a fighter jet's mission (as well as the personnel on board).

In response to this, it wants to develop a program under which a 100x100 micron “dielet” could be included in critical components to verify where they came from. The dielet would include an encryption engine and damage/tampering sensors.

That way, an encrypted fingerprint could be included with electronic components. It could be non-destructively probed, preferably with either a hand-held or automated scanner. DARPA envisions a challenge-response mechanism: the probe sends data like a serial number upstream to a server operated by the industry, receives an unencrypted challenge, and the dielet provides a encrypted response that authenticates the part.

Data from passive sensors would be included in the response: for example, exposure to light might indicate that there's been an attempt to tamper with a component.

The program is called SHIELD, Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronic Devices.

The Register notes that it's not just counterfeiting that concerns DARPA. It also wants to detect batches that come from “unauthorised overproduction of authorised components”, false-markings on chips that fabricate reliability or date of manufacture data, and components that have been repackaged for “unauthorised applications”. ®

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