SEMI, SIA join hands to thwart counterfeiting of electronics components

by Debra Vogler, senior technical editor

Members of the SIA’s Anticounterfeiting Task Force (which includes 16 companies) and SEMI’s International Standards program are working together to address a growing need in the electronics industry: counterfeiting of electronics components. Companies that try to address this problem find themselves in a double bind — not only do they lose money when counterfeit components enter the supply chain, but companies’ brand equity can suffer as well if the fraud becomes public knowledge.

While manufacturers of high-value components, such as microprocessor chips, typically have serialization and other means by which end users can authenticate the product, the technology being discussed by the SIA and SEMI members is different and efforts are first being directed at the lower value components, such as resistors, capacitors, etc., at the package level.

David Brown, senior principal engineer of security and product fraud countermeasures at Intel, is a member of the SIA committee investigating the authentication issue, and spoke with WaferNEWS about the proposals. “We [panel members] have found a generic way to validate/authenticate product that is independent of brand,” he said, noting that the method is also independent of product and could also be applied to other industries, e.g., medical, pharmaceuticals, and military. Because the SIA is not a standards organization, however, the members decided to ask SEMI for assistance in turning their idea into an industry-wide standard.

Their proposed solution: a unique security identifier, attached like a “license-plate” onto bulk packaging of electronic components (e.g., trays or tubes of chips, reels, even on retail boxes). Anyone in the supply chain can check the products’ authenticity simply through an Internet database portal, explained Elliott Grant, president/CEO of YottaMark, which is one of the suppliers of the proposed technology platform (see sidebar).

Key to the standards effort, Brown said, is getting the proposed technology adopted by law enforcement officials on a global basis, initially targeting lower-cost electronics components at the package level. That, he believes, would encourage manufacturers of high-value/complex components (e.g., microprocessors) to consider adopting the new system as well. “If there were an industry standard for authenticating electronic components, and law enforcement agencies around the world were looking for codes as the method for validating product, there is a possibility we would jump on that bandwagon,” he said. Brown noted that the proposed counterfeiting standards solution wouldn’t supercede existing efforts that Intel and others already do to “serialize” their complex devices, but “we might use it [the new technology] on top of that.”

Moreover, it simply would make good business sense to adopt such an industry-wide, global solution, Brown added, offering a scenario in which customs gets cleared faster because of the use of codes. “If that were the case, we would almost certainly adopt it because clearing customs faster means money,” he said. Added benefits to manufacturers include empowering consumers to avoid tainted product, devaluing the tainted product, and raising the value of the good product.

Bettina Weiss, director of international standards at SEMI, told WaferNEWS that SEMI’s North American Traceability Committee will be discussing the scope of proposed standards development for authentication of electronic components at SEMICON West. The counterpart standards committee within SEMI Japan has already been contacted and Weiss expects involvement from other regions as well in a global effort. Aside from whether to adopt the technology as a standard, other issues that need to be addressed by the standards organization are who administers the authentication technology and who manages the database. – D.V.

A yotta’s a “lotta” code space

The implementation being proposed by the joint SIA/SEMI panel and to be considered at the standards meetings at SEMICON West, involves placing highly encrypted codes associated with product and manufacturing information into the packaging or carriers used to transport resistors, capacitors, etc. “The unit of commerce (tray, tube of chips, reel of components, etc.) gets a unique identifier based on encryption methods that are now widely tested and secure,” explained Elliott Grant, president and CEO of YottaMark one of the authentication service providers (ASP) serving on the panel. “Third party companies — the ASPs — provide large quantities of highly encrypted code to product manufacturers who apply the codes to the unit of commerce.” The code can be checked by anybody anywhere in the supply chain, he noted.

The company’s name, “YottaMark,” says it all. A yotta = 1024, and is the size of the code space available to users of the company’s technology. According to Grant, security codes can be checked using the Internet, SMS, a hand-held scanner, or even a camera phone.

The significance of having a method based on a public standard vs. “secret” methods, such as holograms, or hidden tags, is that anyone can easily check authenticity. “The more data points you get, the more people checking codes, the stronger the system becomes…both as a detection method to detect counterfeits more quickly, and as a deterrent,” Grant explained. “Counterfeiters are much less likely to put bad product into the supply chain if they know people are checking.”

Besides YottaMark, two other major ASPs — Verify Brand and TUV Rheinland — are participating in the standards effort. Grant believes that other ASPs will emerge going forward. – D.V.

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