‘Widespread Adoption’ is not the same as ‘Standard’ in Chip Security

Security is definitely one of the newest concerns in electronic design and semiconductor manufacturing. The largest monetary incentive to invest in security comes from the threat of counterfeit and faulty components, but there are several incentives that are harder to quantify for businesses.

One vendor of chip security solutions recently made an announcement on an ‘intiative’ to promote hardware security solutions. The ‘Hardware Intrinsic Security’ initiative claims to ‘Establish Credibility, Educate, and Reduce Barriers to Adoption’. After visiting their website, you may need to ask yourself: what are they educating people about exactly? And they plan to reduce barriers to adoption of what exactly?

Security people are naturally coy about technology, of course — it doesn’t make a lot of sense to publish all of the details of your technology lest you assist an ambitious white or black hat to break your technology or find market-crippling holes in your approach. This HIS Initiative appears to be promoting the widespread adoption of not a single solution, but rather a security requirement. The initiative may or may not be promoting a single solution from IntrinsicID, but it sure makes it easy to promote market demand for hardware security when there are only a handful of solutions and options in the market.

HIS appears to be a market-driven initative rather than what any other industry might call a ‘standards body’. But standards are not necessarily the best or right approach to improving security across the chip industry. Security has been famously referred to as a process, not a technology, so there are likely a variety of different solutions to meet a variety of different market needs. What members of this HIS initative have in common are some security problems (IP loss and counterfeiting), and not necessarily the same solutions.

The problem in focus for HIS is counterfeiting. (As a side note, I always appreciate any marketing effort that can distinctly state which market requirements they are and are not addressing.) Counterfeiting is now a large dollar problem, and sensically should be among the first addressed with an industry consortium. But as many of us know, the threat of counterfeiting devices is not the only problem/threat/issue addressed by Anti-Tamper technology — particularly in defense electronics.

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