PORTLAND, Ore. -- An anti-piracy scheme aims to reduce the temptation to illegally copy integrated circuits, by requiring that chips be securely activated with a lock-and-key mechanism before use. By adding security blocks to chips, patent holders could require activation before newly manufactured chip can function.
"Knock-off microchips based on stolen blueprints is a burgeoning problem in the electronics industry," said Professor Igor Markov, of University of Michigan. "Our scheme doesn't make copying impossible, but it ensures that buying a license and producing the chip legally is cheaper than forgery."
The technique works by adding a security block onto chips that locks the chip, requiring that the correct key be electronically inserted before a chip will function. The activation procedure would be performed by an original equipment manufacturer's tester, which needs to be connected to the Internet. In this way, chips illegally manufactured from stolen blueprints could be identified as such, should the buyer try to activate them.
Named Epic--for Ending Piracy of Integrated Circuits--the scheme was devised in cooperation with Professor Farinaz Koushanfar, at Rice University, and will be formally presented this week at the Design Automation and Test conference (March 10-14, 2008, Munich, Germany) by University of Michigan doctoral candidate Jarrod Roy.
The chips will not be manufactured with serial numbers, but rather will be equipped with one-time programmable memories that enable the chips to be serialized at the time of activation with a 64-bit random identification number that is registered by the patent holder. Because the identification number can be used only once, it could not be later reused without reverse engineering the chip, according to the scheme's inventors, which would be more expensive than buying the chips legally.