UConn Conference Addresses the Impact of Counterfeit Electronics

Researchers and industry professionals met at the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus today to discuss how counterfeit electronics pose silent threats to transportation, communication and national security systems in the U.S. and abroad.

Programs used to prevent hackers from stealing information or spreading viruses have been around just about as long as computers themselves. But UConn professor of engineering innovation Mohammad Tehranipoor, who helped plan the conference, says only over the past ten or so years have researchers realized equipment too can be a target.

“The brain of the electronics systems are what we call chips. And they can be found everywhere. In daily life we deal with computers, laptops and cell phones. And all of these chips can be compromised.”

Tehranipoor says as design and manufacturing operations have moved overseas, recycled or cloned chips made to appear functional have begun showing up in a variety of electronic devices from car-locks to helicopters. He says sometimes faulty chips give equipment shorter or less functional life-spans. In other cases, they allow adversaries to access and distribute confidential information from remote locations.

“You’re dealing with individuals that do the counterfeiting in their home all the way to the state level — they’re very difficult to detect. And we’re talking about how to prevent them from getting into the supply chain.”

Tehranipoor says the UConn conference included sessions on new low-cost technology like electronic “fingerprints” that could determine authentic chips from counterfeit ones — much like security threads embedded in U.S. currency. The event is sponsored in part by the U.S. Army Research Office.