DARPA vir­tual lab ad­vances DoD’s abil­ity to test crit­i­cal mi­cro­elec­tron­ics

SP's MAI - - TECHNOLOGY NEWS -

Un­der the aus­pices of the De­fense Ad­vanced Re­search Projects Agency’s (DARPA) In­tegrity and Re­li­a­bil­ity of In­te­grated Cir­cuits pro­gramme, re­searchers from the Naval Sur­face War­fare Cen­ter (NSWC) and Air Force Re­search Lab­o­ra­tory (AFRL) are col­lab­o­rat­ing in pow­er­ful new ways to de­ter­mine the re­li­a­bil­ity and in­tegrity of mi­crochips em­bed­ded in some of the na­tion’s most crit­i­cal mil­i­tary weapon and cy­ber sys­tems.

In­te­grated cir­cuits or mi­crochips are ubiq­ui­tous, found in vir­tu­ally all mod­ern ap­pli­ances and sys­tems rang­ing from desk­top com­put­ers, lap­tops and cell phones to fighter air­craft and mu­ni­tions. De­spite that per­va­sive­ness and crit­i­cal­ity, few au­to­mated tech­niques to­day can ver­ify whether the in­tended func­tion­al­ity of mi­crochips has been com­pro­mised at any stage dur­ing de­sign and fab­ri­ca­tion.

To en­sure per­for­mance of in­te­grated cir­cuits in mil­i­tary sys­tems, DARPA, work­ing in con­cert with its ser­vice part­ners, de­vel­oped a ‘vir­tual lab’ with an in­te­grated com­puter-aided de­sign or CAD and file-shar­ing en­vi­ron­ment to trans­fer the large vol­umes of data ac­cu­mu­lated dur­ing mi­crochip anal­y­sis and de­bug­ging. In ad­di­tion to file shar­ing, a web­site con­structed for the vir­tual lab is fa­cil­i­tat­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween gov­ern­ment re­searchers and pro­gramme per­form­ers from academia and in­dus­try.

“In­te­grated cir­cuits or mi­crochips form the back­bone of all mil­i­tary IT and elec­tron­ics sys­tems, and en­sur­ing that th­ese mi­crochips are free from unau­tho­rised tam­per­ing is es­sen­tial to na­tional se­cu­rity. Un­for­tu­nately, this task has be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult as more mi­crochips are de­signed and built around the world in com­mer­cial fa­cil­i­ties,” said Kerry Bern­stein, DARPA Pro­gram Man­ager. “Im­prov­ing chip in­tru­sion de­tec­tion and as­sess­ment speed across the in­ves­tiga­tive com­mu­nity will help pre­vent the in­stal­la­tion of coun­ter­feit chips in mil­i­tary sys­tems and en­hance over­all confi- dence in the elec­tron­ics sup­ply chain.”

DARPA’s vir­tual lab is cre­at­ing new meth­ods for re­searchers to test elec­tronic sys­tems with sub­stan­tial com­plex­ity, giv­ing rise to in­no­va­tive re­li­a­bil­ity anal­y­sis tools. Th­ese tools are ap­plied to test ar­ti­cles dis­trib­uted by DARPA to its per­form­ers, who stress the chips un­der loads likely to be seen dur­ing nor­mal op­er­at­ing con­di­tions.

One test, re­ferred to as ad­vanced fail­ure anal­y­sis, uses state-ofthe-art equip­ment, in­clud­ing mul­ti­ple scan­ning op­ti­cal mi­cro­scope tech­niques trans­ferred ear­lier this year from DARPA to NWSC. In a re­cent in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­ducted by NSWC Crane, AFRL Wright Pat­ter­son and Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s In­for­ma­tion Sciences In­sti­tute, re­searchers de­vised a pro­pri­etary, non-de­struc­tive tech­nique to an­a­lyse and re­pair mi­crochips ex­hibit­ing er­ratic be­hav­iour. Us­ing this novel fail­ure anal­y­sis tool, the team was able to de­ter­mine the pre­cise de­sign fault re­spon­si­ble for the be­hav­iour and cor­rect the prob­lem. The non-in­va­sive test­ing was con­ducted us­ing an in­no­va­tive 1,340 nm laser ap­pli­ca­tion to phys­i­cally al­ter the chip’s cir­cuitry. Tra­di­tion­ally, a fo­cused ion beam (FIB) edit would have been re­quired to con­duct such a re­pair, risk­ing de­struc­tion of the chip and its com­po­nents. The new tech­nique pre­serves func­tion­al­ity of the part and its use as ev­i­dence in sub­se­quent foren­sic analy­ses.

“As we seek to au­then­ti­cate, fix and/or re­move sus­pected coun­ter­feit mi­crochips through th­ese ef­forts, broad­en­ing the avail­abil­ity of non-in­va­sive tools, tech­niques and re­lated find­ings across the DoD is es­sen­tial,” said Bern­stein. “Given how wide­spread mi­crochips are, and their vul­ner­a­bil­ity to com­pro­mise, the num­bers don’t seem to be on our side. Through the vir­tual lab, how­ever, we can help shift the bal­ance in our favour. By ex­tend­ing test­ing re­sources to our ser­vice part­ners and work­ing to­gether more ef­fec­tively, we can en­sure the re­li­a­bil­ity of our most im­por­tant elec­tronic sys­tems.”

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