The electronics industry has adopted a wealth of practices to foil or at least identify counterfeit components, from marking to x-raying. Now the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is calling upon engineers to solve the problem.
DARPA has published a call for proposals to develop a nearly microscopic component that could be attached to system components to help identify and combat counterfeit and suspect electronic parts.
Counterfeiter components are pervasive in the defense supply chain. Counterfeiters target both high-ticket chips and components that cost pennies. Worse, system failures associated with fake parts can lead to loss of life and failure of military missions.
In 2009 and 2010, more than 1,800 cases involving more than 1 million suspect parts were linked with known supply chain compromises, according to a May 2012 Senate Armed Services Committee report. "China is the dominant source country," the report said; more than 70% of the suspect parts the committee tracked through the supply chain were traced back to that country.
The new DARPA Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronics Defense (SHIELD) program is calling upon engineers to develop a tool that will verify protected electronic components without disrupting or harming the system. DARPA program manager Kerry Bernstein said in a press release:
SHIELD demands a tool that costs less than a penny per unit, yet makes counterfeiting too expensive and technically difficult to do. The dielet will be designed to be robust in operation, yet fragile in the face of tampering. 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.
DARPA said the proposed system would need to overcome and address with 100% assurance a comprehensive list of realities that inhibit the performance of electronic components, including:
Recycled components that are sold as new
Unlicensed overproduction of authorized components
Test rejects and sub-standard components sold as high-quality
Parts marked with falsely elevated reliability or newer date of manufacture
Clones and copies, which may be of low quality, or may include hidden functionality
Components that are covertly repackaged for unauthorized applications
The program calls for the development of a dielet, a small (100 x 100 microns) component that "authenticates the provenance of electronics components." The proposed component would incorporate a full encryption engine, as well as tampering sensors.
Artist's concept of SHIELD technology.
The resulting component would be affixed to the components being protected and would be scanned for information. It would not maintain an electrical connection with the host component. The dielets could be scanned individually or in batches. The information would be stored and shared in a centralized server, which would send a challenge to the device to confirm that no tampering has occurred.
DARPA plans to host a Proposers' Day Workshop in support of the SHIELD program on Friday, March 14.
— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, , Editor in Chief, UBM's EBN