back to article DARPA wants help to counter counterfeits

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 …

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Silver badge

Sounds good but

It also sounds like DRM, which often has side effects.

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Re: Sounds good but

If your IC was downloadable then sure, but actual hardware has to be made somewhere, and all in the industry would prefer to know exactly where that somewhere was.

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Silver badge

Re: Sounds good but

There was nothing in the article that suggest that the electronics would suddenly stop working the moment there is a problem with the authentication process. It sounds in principle to be more like an anti-counterfeiting hologram on a piece of branded clothing than it does DRM

It would of course be at the discretion of the engineer (or the guidelines to which he/she is working to) to ground the aircraft if the authenticity of a chip cannot be verified.

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Silver badge

xenophobia maybe?

Sure ten years ago there were a lot of really dodgy components, particularly on the grey market.

Most of them were made in China, more ore less performed the intended function, but had high failure profiles. Often the only way you could tell a good 'un from a bad 'un was by xray or such.

Things have moved on now. The Chinese have learned a thing or two about designing devices and are increasingly designing devices that are sold legitimately under Chinese branding. These are increasing in value and complexity. You just have to look at all those really cool ARM parts coming from AllWinner (http://www.allwinnertech.com/en/) and others like them to see what the trajectory is like.

Providers like these are making great devices at really low prices. No wonder the US chip-makers are worried and are devising a program to keep these suppliers out. Right now they're using the FUD of these parts being inferior (like the US car industry did with European, then Japanese, cars in the 1970s and 80s).

Will it last? Not likely. Things move too fast these days.

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Thumb Down

Re: xenophobia maybe?

Nope. Friends in the hardware manufacturing industry find out the hard way that fake chips are still around. And not just complex chips; even with the silly low prices for bog-standard logic, apparently there's still money to be made by using dicky dies.

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Re: xenophobia maybe?

Plenty of fake parts still around for old chips, and the problem for military and other industrial uses is that your products don't go out of date at the same speed as the ICs go out of production. We in the oil industry are still trying to manufacture 15 year old designs with 15 year old processors, try finding 'good' parts for those without getting dodgy stuff. Plus those parts have to survive elevated temperatures and the vibration of a drilling rig, so even the dodgy stuff that works on the bench isn't any good. Obviously the solution is to completely re-design your cash cow products from scratch every 5 years, but you try telling that to the budget-makers.

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Re: xenophobia maybe?

"Right now they're using the FUD of these parts being inferior "

From a defence point of view I'd suggest that there's rather more to it than simply inferior quality, although as others have pointed out that is in fact an issue. We're mindful of the idea of backdoors in hardware, so taking this concept and applying it to commodity IC's is nothing remarkable. All the effort that goes into secure software or encryption, for example, could be negated if a foreign power can get rogue IC's in to the hardware, and those ICs do more than it says on the tin. Indeed, beyond pure espionage, it is possible to posit "hardware hacks" that could on command eliminate the stealth of a stealth fighter, interfere with GPS on a cruise missile, disrupt secure communications, or even compromise flight control systems (or similar for ship/sub).

Given the return of big bloc geopolitics, there's the obvious Chinese interest as they manufacture so much, but there's nothing to say that other powers might not try to interfere in parts manufactured anywhere - as with state sponsored hacking, the physical origin and target of an attack says nothing about who is behind it.

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Silver badge

They want tagging?

I'm assuming like that put into dynamite in the US? Only with more info... Interesting to see what comes of it and how it would be done since the dynamite tagging is very passive.

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Black Helicopters

"SHIELD, Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronic Devices"

Are we sure that it doesn't mean "Spying on Citizens Home, Internet and EveryDay life"?

A better question though is, how do we know that this wont be used to spy on....well everyone, who has a device with one of these embedded in it? I'm not normally one to cry wolf here but I can't help but wonder the implications of this if it were to be implemented.

-Does anyone else hear a helicopter?

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Re: "SHIELD, Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronic Devices"

Are we sure that it doesn't mean "Spying on Citizens Home, Internet and EveryDay life"?

SCHIED(L)?

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Silver badge

Re: "SHIELD, Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronic Devices"

>A better question though is, how do we know that this wont be used to spy on....well everyone, who has a device with one of these embedded in it?

Because this system requires either contact with a probe, or close proximity to it.

We citizens already often carry non-contact chips that can identify us - passports, some bankcards, Oyster cards etc, NFC tags - so I'm not sure why this article concerns you so.

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Re: "SHIELD, Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronic Devices"

Hmm....fair point. I probably shouldn't make posts when I'm half asleep :)

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Silver badge

Re: Because this system requires either contact with a probe, or close proximity to it.

Actually not.

The system requires a probe for AUTHENTICATING it, which says nothing about what it's doing when not being authenticated.

But, theoretically, it only responds to a probe.

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Gold badge
Joke

So I guess that answers the question..

What does S.H.I.E.L.D mean to you?

The PI isn't a Dr Carlson by any chance?

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"“unauthorised overproduction of authorised components”"

AKA selling to both sides.

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Nothing is unique

If you can make it, they can make it. If it is hardware, someone can take the keys out of it and duplicate it. I'm not sure how anyone could win this game.

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Silver badge

Been through this recently, some counterfeit diodes. An x-ray shows they look quite different inside to a real one, almost like they put a lower-current (smaller, cheaper) die in the bigger package.

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The military is so careful...

That a friend once (a while ago) found U.S. Navy acceptance marks (anchor and date) on some surplus parts, indicating they had been received and inspected in 1942. From Siemens.

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Pint

SHIELD?

Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division surely.

Yeah, I'm making comic book references in the El Reg comments section. Surely a sign that it's beer o'clock.

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M7S
Bronze badge

Re: SHIELD?

Originally: Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division.

None of this new fangled stuff.

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Gold badge

Sounds like same again

They are only just finishing the last round of this. They passed a ruling saying that everything had to be supplied with verifiable DNA on it. The problem was that it was a lot of bother for quite a few suppliers, so they said no; the business isn't worth it.

The end result was that the army had to buy the parts through the grey-market, via another company who added the DNA to say that the part was OK - end result was acutally the opposite of what they wanted because they just went ahead with it, even though the suppliers said that they weren't playing ball.

The other thing is we are still using things like op-amps/comparitors/diodes/transistors designed in 1970 or before. Add a die containing a processor and encryption to a diode?! That's even more fucked up than DNA.

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Boffin

Brainwave...

Sounds like interested parties should form a consortium to buy up some 15 year old fab equipment with the license to punch out 15-year old designs, instead of relying on questionable old or imported stock.

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