BOSTON — Counterfeit components are just about everywhere these days. Some are obvious if you give them a close inspection, but others are nearly impossible to identify. It's going to get worse as hackers add rogue code into programmable parts such as FPGAs. How will we ever identify that?
It's one thing to have, say, a fake SD card that gives you less capacity than you paid for, but faked, hacked, and counterfeit parts installed in military and medical devices are far more serious. To identify these parts, you'd need to be able to look inside an IC, layer by layer, before placing it into inventory.
Failure-analysis techniques that let engineers strip down ICs have been around for years, but they require destroying the device. X-ray systems can look inside but generally lack the power and resolution to see details, and they can't identify the materials implanted in ICs. They only way to get the depth and resolution without destroying the device is with an electron beam generated by a synchrotron.
Unfortunately, synchrotrons are billion-dollar systems, and they're so large that you'll find them only at national labs such as Argonne or Stanford Linear Accelerator. Plus, they can only see a small portion of an IC's area at one time. Scanning entire devices can take several visits, with the results taking months to acquire. What's needed is a way to get the results faster and less expensively so that more facilities can identify fake ICs.
Engineers at defense contractor BAE Systems are developing a system that meets these needs. Called Rapid Analysis of Various Emerging Nanoelectronics (RAVEN), the system should fit on a large tabletop, cost perhaps a few million dollars, and be available to industry and university labs. If RAVEN is successful, expect the costs to drop.
The RAVEN system generates an e-beam and detects emissions from the materials in the IC by identifying each material's energy signature, letting engineers identify how the IC was manufactured. It also has enough resolution to scan an entire IC far faster than the synchrotron. The video below takes you through the layers of an IC.
Indeed, there's a terrific French film Le Corbeau (1943) directed by the great Henri-Georges Clouzot, best known for Diabolique and The Wages of Fear. Le Corbeau involves an anonymous poison-pen writer who shrouds a French town with fear. It was banned by both the occupying Nazis and by the Free French.
I noticed chez Wiktionary that corbeaux also referred to those who collected the corpses of people who had died of the plague.