New technique to stamp out microchip piracy, save billions

March 12th, 2008 - 2:26 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, March 12 (IANS) A new technique developed by Rice University will block piracy of microchips, something that causes billions of dollars in losses to chipmakers every year. The cutting edge technology will allow designers to lock and remotely activate chips with a unique ID tag. Only the patent-holder can decipher the key and activate the chip, rendering stolen chips worthless.

Hardware piracy has worsened as the skyrocketing costs of microchip production have led chip-design companies to get out of the manufacturing business.

When different companies do the design and manufacturing, their sole asset is the intellectual property (IP) associated with the integrated circuit’s (IP) blueprints.

“Ours is the first remote-activation scheme that protects integrated circuits against piracy by exploiting their inherent, clone-proof variability,” said its original inventor Farinaz Koushanfar, of Rice University.”

“We use slight variations that arise in modern manufacturing to create a unique, digital identification that acts like a fingerprint for each chip, and we integrate that into the chip’s functionality,” she added.

This month, Koushanfar and colleagues at the University of Michigan, Igor Markov and Jarrod Roy, unveiled this technology called “EPIC: Ending Piracy of Integrated Circuits” in Europe.

The latest method is based on public key cryptography and works for chips that already have a built-in cryptography module. In all tests and research published during the past year, the new technology has proven to be stable, clone proof and attack-resilient.

“The public tends to overlook hardware piracy and focus instead on the well-known and oft-publicised problem of software piracy,” Koushanfar said. “But some intellectual-property experts who have studied both estimate that the economic losses from hardware piracy is more severe compared to software piracy.”

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