Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Unique locks on microchips could reduce hardware piracy

07.03.2008
Hardware piracy, or making knock-off microchips based on stolen blueprints, is a burgeoning problem in the electronics industry.

Computer engineers at the University of Michigan and Rice University have devised a comprehensive way to head off this costly infringement: Each chip would have its own unique lock and key. The patent holder would hold the keys. The chip would securely communicate with the patent-holder to unlock itself, and it could operate only after being unlocked.

The technique is called EPIC, short for Ending Piracy of Integrated Circuits. It relies on established cryptography methods and introduces subtle changes into the chip design process. But it does not affect the chips' performance or power consumption.

Michigan computer engineering doctoral student Jarrod Roy will present a paper on EPIC at the Design Automation and Test in Europe conference in Germany on March 13.

Integrated circuit piracy has risen in recent years as U.S. companies started outsourcing production of newer chips with ultra-fine features. Transferring chip blueprints to overseas locations opened new doors for bootleggers who have used the chips to make counterfeit MP3 players, cell phones and computers, among other devices.

This is a very new problem, said Igor Markov, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at U-M and a co-author of the paper.

"Pirated chips are sometimes being sold for pennies, but they are exactly the same as normal chips," Markov said. "They were designed in the United States and usually manufactured overseas, where intellectual property law is more lax. Someone copies the blueprints or manufactures the chips without authorization."

A cutting-edge fabrication facility costs between $3 billion and $4 billion to build in the United States., said Farinaz Koushanfar, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University and a co-author on the paper.

"Therefore, a growing number of semiconductor companies, including Texas Instruments and Freescale (a former division of Motorola), has recently announced that they would cease manufacturing chips with finer features, and outsource production to East Asia. However, even in U.S. facilities, working chips are sometimes reported defective by individual employees and later sold in gray markets," Koushanfar said.

With EPIC protection enabled, each integrated circuit would be manufactured with a few extra switches that behave like a combination lock. Each would also have the ability to produce its own at least 64-bit random identification number that could not be changed. The chips would not be manufactured with an ID number, but instead with the tools needed to produce the number during activation.

In the EPIC framework, chips wouldn't work correctly until they were activated. To activate a chip, the manufacturer would plug it in and let it contact the patent owner over an ordinary phone line or Internet connection.

"All chips are produced from the same blueprint, but differentiate themselves when they are turned on for the first time and generate their ID," Roy said. "Nothing is known about this number before activation."

The chip would transmit its ID securely to the patent owner. The patent owner would record the number, figure out the combination to unlock that particular chip, and respond securely with the key.

The uniqueness of the activation key rules out the possibility that someone could observe it and reuse it without cracking it. Because the key is generated on the fly, it wouldn't make sense to copy it like you could copy software activation keys, which are printed on CD envelopes.

Theoretically, there are ways to illegally copy chips protected by EPIC, Markov said. But EPIC makes this very difficult.

"If someone was really bent on forging and had a hundred million dollars to spend, they could reverse-engineer the entire chip by taking it apart. But the point of piracy is to avoid such costs," he said. "The goal of a practical system like ours is not to make something impossible, but to ensure that buying a license and producing the chip legally is cheaper than forgery."

Michigan Engineering:
The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. Michigan Engineering boasts one of the largest engineering research budgets of any public university, at more than $130 million annually. Michigan Engineering is home to 11 academic departments and a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. The College plays a leading role in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute. Within the College, there is a special emphasis on research in three emerging areas: nanotechnology and integrated microsystems; cellular and molecular biotechnology; and information technology. Michigan Engineering is raising $300 million for capital projects and program support in these and other areas to continue fostering breakthrough scholarly advances, an unparalleled scope of student opportunities and contributions that improve the quality of life on an international scale.

Nicole Casal Moore | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Did you know that the wrapping of Easter eggs benefits from specialty light sources?
13.04.2017 | Heraeus Noblelight GmbH

nachricht To e-, or not to e-, the question for the exotic 'Si-III' phase of silicon
05.04.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>