Combatting the Surge of Counterfeit Chips: The Crucial Need for Zero Trust in Tech The Need for ‘Zero Trust’ in Computer Chips
The pandemic-induced chip shortage has not only heightened concerns about software hacking in cars but also ushered in a new wave of counterfeit processors. Counterfeit items, ranging from money to luxury goods, are not uncommon in our experiences. But what if the counterfeit item is a critical component in machinery, so well-hidden that its dubious nature is almost undetectable until it leads to a catastrophic failure? Consider a scenario where a crucial part in a jet engine, like a fan-blade damper in a TAP Air Portugal CFM56 turbine, is discovered to be counterfeit during routine maintenance. The potential for disaster in such cases is immense, as even seemingly minor components like bolts and seals can have catastrophic implications.
The concern escalates when counterfeit parts, like computer chips, are so sophisticated that they defy traditional visual inspection methods. A Washington Post article highlighted this growing issue, revealing that numerous semiconductors in U.S. military aircraft, used for functions ranging from navigation to ice detection, were found to be counterfeit. In one striking instance, a supplier for an order of 6,000 chips handpicked only 18 genuine chips for inspection, leaving the rest fake. The U.S. Government Accountability Office’s investigation into this matter led to the discovery of counterfeit parts from multiple vendors, predominantly of Chinese origin.
The automotive industry, severely hit by the chip shortage during the pandemic, saw many Chinese car manufacturers turning to counterfeit chips. Major brands like Nio, Xpeng, and Li Auto were implicated in sourcing these substandard chips, which posed risks to car quality and safety. Even reputable suppliers like Bosch were approached to use these dubious chips in critical car components. This scenario reflects a significant shift in the conventional system of chip procurement, with the exception of BYD, an EV leader that manufactures its own chips.
Combatting the Surge of Counterfeit Chips: The Crucial Need for Zero Trust in Tech
The University of Florida’s Mark Tehranipoor categorizes counterfeit chips into five types: recycled, cloned, re-marked, over-produced, and forged. While some countermeasures like electronic chip IDs and ‘chip odometers’ exist, detection remains a challenge due to the increasing sophistication of counterfeiters and chips.
A potential solution may lie in new detection technologies, like the one developed by Palitronica, a University of Waterloo spin-off. Their method, SilGeo, compares the response of a chip to a high-frequency signal with that of a known authentic part, akin to analyzing echoes in a cave.
The stakes are high, as hardware-based ransomware attacks could be more challenging to detect and rectify than software attacks. The upcoming Driving into the Future panel on Data Security in Automobiles will delve deeper into these issues.
Note: The focus on American military aircraft in this discussion is due to legal disclosure requirements, which do not apply to the auto industry, suggesting that similar issues in the automotive sector may be underreported.
Recent events in aviation safety have raised concerns, particularly involving Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 had to make an emergency landing after experiencing issues, leading to a broader scrutiny of this aircraft model. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has taken action by inspecting every aircraft in the Max series, a move beyond its usual protocol of certifying aircraft for operations and production. Regular maintenance checks are typically carried out on aircraft, categorized into A, B, C, and D checks, depending on the level of inspection required【7†source】.
Boeing 737 MAX aircraft were previously grounded worldwide for about 20 months due to crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia linked to design flaws in the flight control software. The recent incident with Alaska Airlines, however, seems to be related to a manufacturing defect, specifically loose hardware. Both United Airlines and Alaska Airlines reported such issues, raising new concerns about the manufacturing process of these aircraft. Boeing has recommended inspections for all 737 MAX airplanes for possible issues in the rudder control system【8†source】.
In terms of broader aviation safety, a study by the UK’s Reading University showed a significant increase in severe air turbulence over the North Atlantic from 1979 to 2020, with expectations of worsening conditions due to climate change. Despite these challenges, air travel remains one of the safest modes of transportation, with significantly lower odds of accidents compared to car travel【7†source】.
The Federal Aviation Administration is also conducting an audit of Boeing’s production system, particularly after the incident involving an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9’s emergency exit door failure. This incident continues to draw attention to safety concerns in commercial air transport【9†source】.
Meanwhile, NASA’s increase in safety reports for 2023 is seen as a positive indication of a healthy safety culture in the aviation industry. This rise in reporting reflects a more proactive approach to addressing safety issues【10†source】.
Overall, while recent events have highlighted specific concerns, especially regarding certain aircraft models like the Boeing 737 MAX, the aviation industry continues to prioritize safety and address issues as they arise.
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