Scientists develop test for counterfeit chips

Researchers in Florida have outlined a method for detecting fake and recycled electronics parts, in particular counterfeit microchips.

The research team from the Florida Institute for Cybersecurity (FICS) Research has patented the technology, which it describes as a “universal testing technique” for verifying the authenticity of chips in consumer electronics products.

The problem of counterfeit or recycled microchips has grown in recent years as the shift in electronics manufacturing to Asia has made it harder for consumer electronics companies to maintain oversight over the chip manufacturing process.

According to a Pentagon report about 15 percent of all purchased electronics parts used by the US military headquarters are counterfeit.

Meanwhile, figures from the Electronic Resellers Association International (ERAI) suggest that “consumer and industrial businesses lose approximately $250 billion each year” as a result of the problem.

There are currently three main ways of testing microchip authenticity: the first is with embedded hardware security primitives/sensors; the second is by electrical testing of the chip; the final method is a physical inspection of the chip with scanning electron microscopes.

FICS researchers, however, decided to pursue a completely different approach, focusing instead on data gleaned from low-dropout regulators, or LDOs, a common component in microchips.

The researchers found that by measuring how the LDO regulators respond to variations in the input presented to the chip’s power supply, they could produce an aging signature which could be analyzed to determine if the chip is a recycled-type counterfeit or not.

The new methodology is improved with the addition of machine learning, which can be used to automate the data analysis and better understand the sources contributing to the aging.