Chip manufacturers could soon use a new fingerprinting technology in a bid to thwart the trade in counterfeit processors.
Counterfeit goods are a huge problem in manufacturing industries and especially in computing, where illegitimate chips can be a security, performance and hacking threat, as well as erode chipmakers' revenue and reputation.
In a bid to overcome the issue, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology have developed and anti-counterfeit technique dubbed physical unclonable functions (PUFs).
“Every component has a kind of individual fingerprint since small differences inevitably arise between components during production," said Dominik Merli, a scientist at Fraunhofer.
The scientists said printed circuits develop tiny variations in thickness or length during the manufacturing process and although the differences don't affect functionality, they can be used to generate a unique and constantly-changing ID code.
Manufacturers would integrate a PUF module into chips to prove that it was genuine and the researchers claim the technology will work with field programmable gate arrays, microchips and smartcards.
“At its heart is a measuring circuit, for instance a ring oscillator,” said Merli. “This oscillator generates a characteristic clock signal which allows the chip's precise material properties to be determined. Special electronic circuits then read these measurement data and generate the component-specific key from the data.”
Unlike conventional cryptographic processes, which can be attacked, the secret key is not stored on the hardware but is regenerated as and when required.
According to the researchers, because the code relates directly to the system properties at any given time, it is virtually impossible to extract and clone the code, marking an improvement on current protection measures.
“Today’s commercially available anti-piracy technology provides a degree of protection, but it no longer constitutes an insurmountable obstacle for the product counterfeiters,” the Fraunhofer team said. “Criminals are using scanning electron microscopes, focused ion beams or laser bolts to intercept security keys – and adopting increasingly sophisticated methods.”
Last year, it emerged that the US military was among several sectors dangerously exposing critical systems to malfunction by using counterfeit processors to repair equipment.
This article originally appeared at pcpro.co.uk