Last Updated on October 23, 2023 by Kevin Chen
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In most development projects, developers tend to software security while the hardware takes the backroom. Little do they know that a vulnerable integrated circuit will eventually affect the security of the software.
If you are building any electronic product, you should also pay attention to the IC chip security. There should be a zealous effort to protect the IC chip from the cyber threats and counterfeiting.
A well-protected IC should function in the way that it was designed to do. Users should be able to predict the working pattern of the IC chip.
Other than executing its functionality, it should be highly dependable.
The IC should also be trustworthy such that there are no possibilities of any malware embedded in it.
To achieve these goals, every security aspect of the IC chip needs to get full attention. The fact that IC security threats keep evolving daily requires manufacturers to always update their security measures.
In this guide, we are going to explore all the essentials of IC chip security.
Security threats that affect IC chips
To know the importance of protecting IC chips against cyber threats and counterfeiting, let’s highlight some of the common security threats.
A malware is a malicious software that is installed on the integrated circuit with the intention of causing some form of harm.
A malware may be installed to damage the original software that was installed by the manufacturer, or to steal data from the device in which the IC will be installed.
There are various ways in which malware find their way into the IC chips.
One of the ways is during the IC manufacturing process. If proper measures are not set during the IC manufacturing process, a malware may be infiltrated into the IC chip.
Another way is when the IC is already in use.If the users don’t install appropriate anti-malware systems, the IC will end up being infected with malware.
This is another major security threat that affects IC chips. Side-channel attacks take place when key security features of the integrated circuits are leaked to the outsiders.
The attack can happen during the IC manufacturing process or even when the chip is already installed on the target devices.
During the side channel attack, essential data about the IC is extracted using various high-level techniques.
These are threats that originate from the organization responsible for designing, manufacturing and programming IC chips.
The threats are executed by dishonest employees or independent contractors who are part of the team involved in manufacturing integrated circuits.
Som of these players have valuable data about the IC chips that are being manufactured and can do anything to compromise the its security.
There are various forms of physical attacks that can affect the security and integrity of IC chips.
These attacks usually happen when key components of the chips are compromised in one way or another.
The attacker will physically access the chip and compromise it in a way that it will be vulnerable to various security threats.
Sometimes attackers may introduce foreign components to the IC, an act that will also affect the overall security of the IC chip.
Common forms of IC physical attacks include reverse engineering, and physical tampering.
IC manufacturing in relation to the cyber threats and counterfeiting
A quick overview of the IC chip manufacturing will give you proper understanding on why protection against cyber threats and counterfeiting is important.
The process of manufacturing a single chip encompasses of hundreds of steps until you get a complete chip.
There is high level of security that is observed and adhered to during the chip manufacturing process. For example, in some cases, every ray of light wavelength in the room must be filtered . This is in addition to the top-notch cleanliness levels that are observed in the room.
The whole process starts with design and planning. The purpose of the chip must be known. What will it do? Where will it be used and what electronic components will be on the chip?
Design and simulation tools are usually used during stage. It is also at this stage that the security concerns of the chip are highlighted. For example, if the IC chip will be used in networking function, all security matters pertaining internet and networks must be included.
Once the designs are created, mask wafers are made through photolithiography process.
Silicon wafers are created during the manufacturing. They will provide attachment platforms for the circuits.
The next stage is metallization where key components of the IC are etched on the wafer.
The final stage is packaging. IC chip is packaged in a protective casing to ensure that it remains in good condition ready for use.
Security threats in the IC manufacturing
IC chip security protection starts right at the manufacturing and supply stages. Flaws and mistakes introduced during the manufacturing stage will eventually compromise the security of the chips. Hackers may explore these flaws to gain access into the systems.
Rogue developers can introduce malicious codes during the IC manufacturing process. This is a common case that affects most programmable IC chips. It will be difficult to detect such issues once the chip is deployed to the final devices.
The hundreds of steps to be followed during the IC chip manufacturing can make it difficult to implement various security measures. A security exploit may be introduced at one stage and will go undetected.
Another security threat during the IC chip manufacturing is the number of electronic components that are in single chip. A chip usually comprises of thousands of transistors, and not all of these transistors are genuine or meet the minimum security standards. It will require massive experience and high levels of expertise to single out a rogue transistor that is causing security threat.
A flaw in design stage can also end up compromising the security of the integrated circuit.
What if IC chip manufacturers buy wrong or counterfeit components? This will also compromise the security of the chip during the manufacturing stage.
Are you sure that the integrated circuit chip you have bought is 100% genuine? It is believed that approximately 5% of all the integrated circuits in the market are counterfeit.
The fake IC chips are very similar to the original ones in terms of the physical features and appearance hence buyers may easily be duped into buying them.
Is there any security threat of using counterfeit IC chips?
Yes there are numerous risks that come with including a counterfeit chip in your device-that is if you are a manufacturer of electronic device.
First, the fact that these chips are counterfeit means that zero regard was given to its security features. The chip will be highly vulnerable to all forms of security risks.
Secondly, most counterfeit IC chips are manufactured by entities with malicious intentions.
The manufacturers of these integrated circuits may be intending to steal data or commit other malicious activities.
Other than cyber security issues, counterfeit chips may also be safety risks. The electronic components of the chip may be of low quality and may get damaged or cause electrical accident when included in a device.
How to secure IC chips from cyber threats and counterfeit
We have just discussed key cyber security threats and counterfeit issues that affect IC chips. Are there any solutions to these issues?
The fact that we still have well-secured IC chips means that there are measures put by manufacturers and other parties to secure the chips. Here are some of the solutions.
- Deploying hardware security systems: This is implemented during the manufacturing of the IC chips. Manufacturers deploy various security features such as anti-malware programs, encryption systems, authentication systems among others. All these security systems keep the chips secure from hackers.
- Internal organization protocols: Reputable IC manufacturers have internal mechanisms that only allow authorized people to access key components of IC. This measure helps to prevent physical attacks.
- Anti-couterfeit measures: There are various measures put to protect buyers from buying counterfeited integrated circuit chips. For example, some manufacturers have put systems that uniquely identify their products and protect them from buying fake or counterfeit chips.
- Streamline the IC chip supply chain: One of the security issues that affect the IC chips is a broken supply chain. This can compromise the security of the chips being supply and make the target users buy fake chips. Top IC manufacturers have selected specific reputable IC chips distributors to supply and distribute their chips.
At this point, you are fully aware that IC security is an important issue that deserves your full attention. As long as you are building an electronic product that will use the chips, then you should analyze all the security aspects of the chips.
The good thing we have highlighted some of the best measures that you can use to ensure that you get the IC chips that meet all the security standards.
A we have said buying from the best IC chip manufacturers and suppliers is the surest way of ensuring you get the most secure chips.
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