Supply Chain Contamination

Device design, board-level production, mask manufacturing, semiconductor chip production, test and packaging efforts are all now developed and supplied largely from offshore suppliers. With this new reality come dramatic increases in counterfeit or compromised products in the U.S. supply chain.

Back in 2010, the Department of Commerce reported that the supply chain had already experienced a significant compromise through counterfeit product.  In November 2011, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that these counterfeit goods are a “clear and present danger” and a “threat to our troops. There is a flood of counterfeits and it is putting our military men and women at risk and costing us a fortune,” he noted.”

Even the legacy product supply is suspect in that those products have long been out of production and are only available through reclaim (stripping old boards) or redesign.  Reclaimed parts are generally acquired from offshore supply and are therefore highly subject to counterfeiting and tampering, which can take place anywhere within the production cycle (design through finished product).

In our study of the problem, we received input from executives and production staff at every step of the semiconductor design and manufacturing process. This anecdotal evidence clearly illustrates that counterfeit activities and actual tampering are widespread across all levels of manufacturing. If any one of the various suppliers fails to exercise stringent controls through each step of their process, counterfeit or compromised product can result.

We have been advised that the only way to eliminate the problem under the current circumstances is to 100% test each device. We seriously doubt that this would solve the problem and the cost would be higher than reproducing the product in a U.S. foundry. Moreover, malicious designs can be put into product designs and not detected by device functionality testing – this is a particular concern with FPGA devices.

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