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Lock-and-key design prevents IC piracy

Posted: 12 Mar 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IC piracy? security design? Ending Piracy of Integrated Circuits?

A scheme to secure ICs from forgery is set to be introduced at the Design Automation and Test conference in Germany. The anti-piracy scheme aims to reduce the temptation to illegally copy ICs, by requiring that chips be securely activated with a lock-and-key mechanism before use. By adding security blocks to chips, patent holders could require activation before newly manufactured chips can function.

"Knock-off microchips based on stolen blueprints is a burgeoning problem in the electronics industry," said Professor Igor Markov, of University of Michigan. "Our scheme doesn't make copying impossible, but it ensures that buying a license and producing the chip legally is cheaper than forgery."

Safety procedure
The technique works by adding a security block onto chips that locks the chip, requiring that the correct key be electronically inserted before a chip will function. The activation procedure would be performed by an OEM's tester, which needs to be connected to the Internet. In this way, chips illegally manufactured from stolen blueprints could be identified as such, should the buyer try to activate them.

Named Epic--for Ending Piracy of Integrated Circuits--the scheme was devised in cooperation with Professor Farinaz Koushanfar of Rice University, and will be formally presented this week at the Design Automation and Test conference in Munich, Germany by University of Michigan doctoral candidate Jarrod Roy.

The chips will not be manufactured with serial numbers, but rather will be equipped with one-time programmable memories that enable the chips to be serialized at the time of activation with a 64bit random ID number that is registered by the patent holder. Because the ID number can be used only once, it may not be reused without reverse engineering the chip, according to the scheme's inventors, which would be more expensive than buying the chips legally.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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