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Crime United States Hardware Technology

DARPA Looks To End the Scourge of Counterfeit Computer Gear 75

coondoggie writes "Few things can mess up a highly technical system and threaten lives like a counterfeit electronic component, yet the use of such bogus gear is said to be widespread. A new Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program will target these phony products and develop a tool to 'verify, without disrupting or harming the system, the trustworthiness of a protected electronic component.'"
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DARPA Looks To End the Scourge of Counterfeit Computer Gear

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  • by IgnorantMotherFucker ( 3394481 ) on Monday February 24, 2014 @06:20PM (#46328179) Homepage

    It occurred quite a long time ago, but at the time no solution was proposed.

    Regular steel bolts have hexagonal heads that are flat on top. Bolts made of high-strength steel are marked with three - if I recall correctly - radial lines.

    You can see that it would be easy and cheap to mark a regular steel bolt with those three lines, then sell it for the high-strength premium.

    This caused at least on death: a worker who was torquing a bolt while building the first Saturn car factory snapped the head off a bolt and fell to his death.

    An Army general commented that when he took his battalions tanks out for training in the desert, their tracks were littered with bits of broken off bolts, as well as the occasional tank tread.

    What they actually did about this was to test samples of bolt shipments, but such testing was very expensive and so could not provide good coverage.

    However it has been years since I last heard about it. Has the counterfeit bolt problem been solved? If so how?

  • Counterfeit? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Monday February 24, 2014 @06:40PM (#46328425) Journal

    How can one discern between counterfeit and real, when both are coming off the same assembly line in China?

    This is what is called "third shift" products, where the first two shifts make XYZ product for ABC corp, and the third shift makes XYZ Counterfeit for black market.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 24, 2014 @10:22PM (#46330547)

    Used to be easy back when ICs had few layers and feature sizes that were resolvable with optical light microscopy.

    I used to verify ICs for trustable computing back in the day, We would take aligned dieshots, develop them, project them through a red filter, project the master copy of the dieshot through a blue filter, overlay them and look for any large red or blue bits indicative that the metal was not the same. In light of recently published dopant sabotaged parts, it is obvious the technique we used back then was flawed, and not really applicable to modern chips which have many metal layers.

    Destructive testing of representative samples can yield verification of all metal layers, but still doesn't cover the dopant sabotage technique (which we were not aware of at the time), of course you could try and slip things through by only sabotaging 5% or 10% of the parts.

    I think a much more prevalent problem is counterfeit parts for commercial gain than sabotage, for example taking some cheap MOSFET with similar but worse characteristics and relabelling it as some expensive MOSFET. This happens frequently (found a batch of fake BJTs when I was building an amplifier, as the fake part had the wrong CBE pinout). Another common technique is taking low speed-grade DRAM, assembling it on DIMMs and programming SPD data that claims to be highspeed DRAM, often they don't even bother to change the labels on the device packages, as they are covered by a heatsink on most modern DIMMs.

    The problem with out-of-grade counterfeiting is that the different grades are produced from identical masks, and can only be differentiated by very careful measurement of the device parameters. In some cases the counterfeits even meet every parameter, as they are produced by binning in the same way the the original manufacturer bins the parts prior to labelling. There are opamps which cost $40/each, and they are binned from the same line which makes parts costing $1/each, the manufacturer is even up front about this. Sometimes, the line produces more parts that would qualify for the $40/each part number than there is demand for the $40/each part, so the manufacturer just bins them as a lower price part. If the counterfeiter was upfront about it like the OEM, they would relabel them as their own part, with some guarantee about performance like the OEM provides, but then they wouldn't be a counterfeiter, but a legitimate re-binning service.

    An example of legitimate rebinning is many of the high end audio equipment or lab equipment manufacturers. They often use commercial grade parts, have an internal test jig, and resell or dispose of parts that don't meet their higher-than-spec required parameters.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle