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"fingerprinting" Chips to Fight Counterfeiting

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Chips assigned unique "fingerprints" and integrated into radio frequency identification tags (shown here) can be scanned by a mobile device or reader to determine if the tag is authentic.

MIT spin-off Verayo has created technology that tracks random variations in silicon chips to assign them unique "fingerprints."

Credit: Verayo

The manufacturing process of silicon chips causes microscopic variations in the chips that are unpredictable, permanent, and essentially impossible to recreate. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are using these variations, called physical unclonable functions (PUFs), to "fingerprint" silicon chips used in consumer-product tags to combat product counterfeiting.

The fingerprint consists of minute speed differences in a chip's response to electrical signals caused by the PUFs. The MIT researchers assigned manufactured chips sets of 128-bit numbers, which are stored in a database in the cloud. The chips can be scanned by a mobile device that will search the database to determine if the tag is authentic.

PUFs are created when wires vary in thickness, and the chemical vapor deposition process creates microscopic bumps. The bumps cause electrons to flow with more or less resistance through different paths of the chip, varying the processing speed.

The PUF technology works by "racing" signals through two different paths across the chips. The output is a 1 if one path is faster, and a 0 if the other is faster. Repeating the process with different input signals for each race creates the 128-bit number.

From MIT News
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