Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Unique locks on microchips could reduce hardware piracy

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:

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht New method increases energy density in lithium batteries
24.10.2016 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

nachricht 'Super yeast' has the power to improve economics of biofuels
18.10.2016 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

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: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>