The presence of counterfeit microelectronics in cybersecurity equipment is considered a critical problem for the US Government, in military sector the hardware qualification has assumed a crucial importance for national cyber security strategy.
The US DARPA supports the development of the Integrity and Reliability of Integrated Circuits (IRIS) program to prevent the diffusion of counterfeit microelectronics in US military systems. The IRIS program started in to improve hardware qualification in the military industry, the scope is the identification of any anomaly in the IC present in critical equipment.
The official post published by DARPA highlights the dramatic growth of the worldwide IC market in the last decades, in 2013, the import value of integrated circuits was $231 billion, up 20 percent from the previous year. The majority of microelectronics in cybersecurity equipment is today manufactured in the far East to reduce the costs, but in several cases security experts have raised doubts in the integrity of circuitry components.
Researchers with SRI International, an IRIS performer, have announced they have provided Advanced Scanning Optical Microscope (ASOM) technology to the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Crane, Indiana.
The US Government has designed over the years, numerous forensics tools for the analysis of microelectronic provided by military partners. The laboratory equipment used by experts under the Integrity and Reliability of Integrated Circuits (IRIS) program allows engineers to scan components of sophisticates circuits present in any kind of devices used in military and other critical sectors.
The ASOM technology allows the inspection of integrated circuits (IC) with impressive precision by scanning them with a narrow infrared laser beam. The ASOM technology could be used by law enforcement to inspect equipment under investigation, allowing detection of counterfeit microelectronics. The ASOM is able to probe microelectronic circuits at nanometer levels, revealing information about chip construction as well as the function implemented by the circuits of the component at the transistor level.
“The Advanced Scanning Optical Microscope—one of many IRIS-developed technologies—offers important hardware security and reliability assurance capabilities,” said Kerry Bernstein, DARPA program manager. “These tools are optimized to support the mission of ensuring trust in microelectronics in DoD labs such as NSWC Crane.”
As explained in the blog post published by DARPA, military demand for integrated circuits (IC) is a small part of the overall market, neraly one percent, for this reason DoD has limited ability to influence global production.
“Without the ability to influence and regulate the off-shore fabrication of IC, there is a risk that parts acquired for DoD systems may not meet stated specifications for performance and reliability,” said Bernstein. “This risk increases considerably with the proliferation of counterfeit IC in the marketplace.”
The ASOM technology is considered a success for the agency due to its inspection capabilities which allow engineers to conduct nondestructive tests and identify counterfeit components, essential for the design of the nation’s weapons and other critical systems.
(Security Affairs – DARPA, ASOM)