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'Self-destruct' chips could help combat a criminal plague that costs businesses billions every year — new technique could mitigate counterfeiting through electromigration

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Researchers at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) have introduced a new technique involving 'self-destruct' chips. 

The technology was presented alongside several other innovations aimed at thwarting sophisticated hack attacks.

One of the most challenging attacks to defend against involves a hacker gaining physical access to a system’s circuit board. As IEEE Spectrum reports, A probe attack in the right place can not only steal critical information and monitor traffic, but also take control of the entire system. To combat this, a team from Columbia University, including Intel's director of circuit technology research, Vivek De, developed a circuit that detects the presence of a probe on the circuit board.

This chip will self destruct in...

Another method of attack involves exploiting side channels such as power and electromagnetic emission to gain access to sensitive information. To counter this, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Intel developed a method of obscuring these signals, making it virtually impossible for attackers to access the information.

However, the most revolutionary technique introduced at the conference was the 'self-destruct' chip developed by a team led by Eric Hunt-Schroeder from the University of Vermont, and Marvell Technology. These chips, including CPUs, generate their own unique digital fingerprints, or physically unclonable functions (PUFs), ensuring their authenticity. 

If compromised, these PUFs can destroy themselves using two methods of circuit suicide, both involving an increase in voltage that leads to electromigration or rapid time-dependent dielectric breakdown.

This method of self-destruction not only prevents counterfeit chips from entering the market but also renders the chip useless if compromised. "When you're done with a part, it's destroyed in a way that renders it useless," said Hunt-Schroeder.

These breakthroughs could potentially save businesses billions lost to counterfeit chips each year and lay the groundwork for more secure systems in the future.

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