Microchips are usually mass produced with special and very expensive machines. All chips from the same batch produced by such a machine are identical. If you manage to hack the security of one of the chips, you will have access to all chips of that type. This vulnerability is overcome with an innovative method for the production of unique chips that was developed by UniqIC.
UniqIC is a collaboration between Irdeto and Mapper. Irdeto is specialized in the security of digital platforms and applications. Mapper designs and produces machines for the production of computer chips based on electron-beam lithography. Technolution is the development partner of UniqIC and provides the system integration, development of new applications and part of the project management.
Side Channel Attacks
Hacking takes time and costs money. Hackers therefore like to focus on microchips that are being produced in large quantities. When they have bypassed the security, they can use this knowledge many times. It is thus crucial for hackers to find a chip's weakness. Once they have succeeded, they can use one method of attack, a side channel attack, to hack each system that uses that particular chip.
Things change when each individual chip has a unique and implemented security code. A hacker will think twice before he (or she) spends valuable time and energy into hacking such a chip. After all, the acquired knowledge cannot be duplicated to be used for other chips. However, producing unique chips was, until now, a costly and almost unattainable feat.
Lithography versus electron beams
With the classic production method, the chip design is applied to a wafer using photolithography. A light-sensitive layer on the wafer is exposed to light via a mask. One chip requires approximately thirty masks. The method of Mapper, a Dutch company, is based on electron-beam lithography. This method projects thousands of electron beams onto the wafer for the chip design. It does not require masks.
Unique method for unique chips
UniqIC combines both production methods in order to produce unique chips. During this new method, chips are largely produced in a classic manner. However, one of the thirty (or more) layers is not created via a mask, but with a Mapper machine. This interlayer is established in such a way that each produced chip is unique.
The new production method has a number of obvious advantages in comparison to the traditional method:
- Side Channel Attacks are no longer profitable.
- Cloning chips is virtually impossible.
- Single-chip-security makes multi-chip-attacks pointless.
- The security is implemented during production; there are no adaptations required after that.
- Many applications; for example, connecting software to one specific chip.
- High level of security against relatively low costs.
The new method is widely applicable and is already being used in a number of projects for the production of secured chips. UniqIC develops unique, front-running technology and thus perfectly matches the vision and ambition of Technolution.
- Theo Tieman
- Project Manager
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