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Microelectronics: Salware Project Offers Solutions for Securing Integrated Circuits

The Salware project, funded in 2013 under the "Young Researchers” instrument has driven forward knowledge on securing embedded circuits. Salware has also paved the way for new tools enabling circuit manufacturers and industry players using circuits to curb counterfeiting. Funding from the project has gone towards a young team researching into a heretofore unexplored theme in France.

Over the past few years, the microelectronics industry has been confronted with a rise in production costs and increasingly complex embedded circuits. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of companies doing without a means of production (or fabless) and massive outsourcing. Integrated circuits have consequently become targets for counterfeiting and theft. This situation has had repercussions on industrial property for producers, security for manufacturers, and trust for the general public.

Coming up with technology solutions to help make said circuits more secure is therefore critical for France and Europe. Such solutions may help microelectronics manufacturers protect their products, help aerospace and military manufacturers secure their supply chain, and ensure the consumer a minimum level of quality and security when buying electronic hardware.

Salware, the First French Academic Salutary Hardware Project

It is in this context that the ANR Foundation for Aeronautics and Space Research (frae) decided to throw their weight behind the Salware project, coordinated by Lilian Bossuet, a young researcher and lecturer at the University of Saint-Etienne Jean Monnet and leader of the secure embedded systems team at the Hubert Curien Laboratory (cnrs-umr 5516). The project, launched in 2013, contributes to existing anti-counterfeiting and anti-theft efforts through theoretical and experimental research and salutary hardware design. Theirs is the very first French academic research project to tackle the topic. The term “salutary hardware” refers to a hardware system which is difficult to detect or circumvent and which fits onto an integrated circuit. Such a system can provide information on intellectual property (for example, a trademark or license to use hardware) and remotely activate the circuit after manufacturing as well as during usage.

Outstanding Academic Results

At the outcome of three years of research, the Salware project’s results speak for themselves; a quiet, ultralight and contactless system for transmitting intellectual property information over an electromagnetic channel. The system has brought about a thousandfold increase in transmission rate compared with previous systems. Research has also been successfully used to offer a new unclonable physical function that gives integrated circuits an intrinsic identity, like a microelectronic fingerprint. This technique, more secure than existing solutions, makes use of transient effect ring oscillators. Another noteworthy Salware project involves a method for blocking digital integrated circuits through a logic analysis algorithm. The algorithm is highly efficient; it can be used for circuits ranging from several hundred up to a million transistors. Said results have earned the project additional funding from the Rhone-Alps region and a label from Minalogic competitiveness cluster.

A New Team Emerges

Besides its academic achievements, the project also had very positive impact in terms of the project coordinator’s scientific autonomy. The grant has aided fledgling researchers take on an important emerging theme. This point constitutes a key objective of ANR’s “Young Researchers” instrument. The brains behind the project are two PhD students from FRAE, Cedric Marchand and Brice Colombier. Based on results yielded, Lilian Bossuet was able to submit a research project to the European Research Council’s 2016 "consolidator” call, which funds outstanding projects at the European level.

The Salware project - Designing Hardware to Combat Counterfeiting and Theft of Integrated Circuits

The project, funded in 2013 under the JCJC - SIMI 3 call – “Hardware and Software for Systems and Communications”, was awarded a grant worth €167k, spread over a 42-month period. Salware is coordinated by Lilian Bossuet, a young researcher and lecturer at the University of Saint-Etienne Jean Monnet and leader of the secure embedded systems team at the Hubert Curien Laboratory.

The impact of counterfeited electronic circuits

Between 2006 and 2010, the American distributor Visiontech sold 60,000 counterfeit circuits to its customers, the US Navy and Raytheon Missile Systems. A huge number of counterfeit circuits were reported in the United States and Europe for both consumer applications and sensitive Defense and Aerospace applications (military and aeronautics equipment). The number of counterfeit electronic circuits confiscated by US customs from 2001 to 2011 has multiplied by roughly 700. Between 2007 and 2010, US customs seized 5.6 million counterfeit electronic products. Overall, counterfeits are estimated to represent between 7% and 10% of the semiconductor market, which translates to a roughly $33 billion loss of legitimate business in the industry.


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