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FTDI driver upgrade challenges counterfeiters

Posted: 29 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:FTDI? counterfeit? USB? UART? bridge?

When the Glasgow chip designer, Future Technology Devices Int. Ltd (FTDI), introduced a new driver for the FT232R USB-to-UART bridge IC, it "bricked" a number of fake chips engineers had bought thinking they are genuine. EE Times reports that the same API calls go out to all devices, genuine or not. As it happens the fake ones didn't support some of those API calls.

"We have had no backlash from any of our major customers, but we have temporarily suspended the driver from being downloaded," Gordon Lunn, global customer engineer support manager at FTDI, told the publication. "We will investigate what is happening in the current driver and, in the fullness of time, reinstate the driver download, and if there's something we need to alter in the driver, we will do that."

"Ultimately, we are challenging the counterfeiters," Lunn said. "We want to maintain the quality and supply chain. Our distributors all have an investment in FTDI, which we are trying to protect, and we test our parts so that we produce the best output with genuine devices."

Lunn said that the company doesn't want its products to be compatible with "non-genuine devices," he said. "They've not had to invest in IP or driver development. There's no marketing collateral. There's no certification test, so they save a lot of expense." The company insisted however that they haven't embedded a "fake detection" algorithm in the driver.


This is also important to FTDI's brand. "The reliability of these unknown devices is also unknown, so you can't guarantee how long they will last," he said. "But people still come back and think it's the FTDI parts failing, so we have to try to weed them out if we can."

FTDI said there's a security concern with microcontroller-based USB devices being reprogrammed with malware. "Our understanding is we think they are microcontroller based, so they are potentially more vulnerable," Lunn said. "You can't change what a genuine device actually does."

So what happens to the poor customers who bought the parts thinking they were genuine? "We take each case on an individual basis," said Lunn. "If a customer is willing to work with us and help us track down the source, then perhaps we would enter negotiations on a goodwill basis. I can't rule out working with individuals. It has to be considered."

- Vivek Nanda

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