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Fighting the black market: crypto-locks for CPUs, other ICs
Processors & Memory
Written by Daniel   
Monday, 10 March 2008 11:37

Fighting the black market: crypto-locks for CPUs, other ICs

By Joel Hruska | Published: March 09, 2008 - 10:21PM CT
ARS Technica

The cost of first building and then updating fabrication facilities has forced a number of semiconductor companies that once owned their own foundries to pursue asset light fabless strategies. A fabless semiconductor company develops its own technology and chip designs, but pays a separate, dedicated fabrication facility, such as TSMC, UMC, or Chartered, to produce the chips. The fabless approach has saved integrated circuit (IC) design companies a great deal of money, but it has also enabled the rise of a thriving black market in counterfeit chips.

Computer engineers at the University of Michigan and Rice University think they may have the solution to this problem and have designed a hardware lock that could be built into each IC and activated by the IP holder.

According to the engineers who developed the new lock, the rise in IC design piracy is attributable to several factors. Intellectual property rights are often loosely defined in Asian countries, and enforcement policies can be lax. Theft is also an issue and can range from employees pocketing supposedly bad processors to fabrication firms allowing "unauthorized" manufacturers access to a client's masks. At this point, there is no simple way to change a hardware design to fight piracy, and current anti-theft technologies are inadequate to the task at hand. The EPIC (End Piracy of Integrated Circuits) technique is designed to change all this.

EPIC uses public-key cryptography system, in which the IP holder generates a pair of Master Keys, one public, one private. Each IC is engineered with its own true random number generator (TRNG) and support for public-key cryptography; knowledge of the public Master Key (MK-Pub) is also baked into the chip.   [Ars Technica...]   [Comments...]

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