On January 17, Applied DNA Sciences and the University of Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering announced a partnership which has made waves in the electronics trade press, and beyond. The partnership could play a critical role in preventing the counterfeiting of computer chips - a collaboration in the groundbreaking area of "nanosecurity" that initially targets the $20 billion defense industry chip market and has the potential to impact nanoelectronics and aerospace markets well in excess of $300 billion.
Here, the College's Michael Fancher, VP of Business Development and Economic Outreach, comments on the partnership.
Back on November 10, a space official at the Russian Defense Ministry placed a worried call to the Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, about the impending doom of a joint Russian-Chinese Mars orbiter spacecraft, the Phobos-Grunt:
"I think we have lost the Phobos-Grunt," he said, according to ABC News via space.com. "It looks like a serious flaw. Past experience shows that efforts to make the engines work will likely fail."
Early in January that is just what happened, the failed systems consigning a 14-ton Russian launch vehicle, and its Chinese orbiter payload, to the status of space junk. The $165-million spacecraft was designed to retrieve soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos, but had stalled in earth orbit. One by one, its systems had rebooted and then shut themselves down.
A Zenit rocket launches into space carrying Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft toward Mars. Liftoff occured on Nov. 9, 2011 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Counterfeit microchips are among the suspected causes of its crash last month.
Maps published on quasi-official Russian military sites traced the doomed trajectory of the Phobos-Grunt as its remains hurtled into the Pacific Ocean.
Within 24 hours, recriminations began to fly.
That was in January. Yesterday, Space Agency chief Vladimir Popovkin added a spectacular charge, saying foreign-made counterfeit or defective microchips were partly to blame for the failure of the $165-million spacecraft, designed to retrieve soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos.
Let it be said that the assertion was only the latest fingering someone, anyone, other than the Russian space program. Popovkin at one point point the finger of blame at a possible burst of space radiation, while earlier it had been interference from U.S. radars. All the while, some in the international technical community joined a chorus of cynicism about a lack of Russian scientific skill, quality control or project management. At this writing, most of these charges have been debunked. But the possibility of a defective counterfeit in the system, as described by the official Russian report on the final fate of Phobos, deserves attention.
Radiation as a cause was cast into doubt by Russian sources themselves, saying that lack of preparation for such an event would be a mark of almost unthinkable negligence in planning. Russian officials also eventually admitted that U.S. radar was not involved, and in any case the possibility of ground radars interfering with low orbiting space vehicles always seemed improbable to observers.
Finding fault with Russian science seems popular outside that country, but one needs to keep this in perspective. The science establishment has suffered from brain drain in the last decade, but the imposing superstructure of scientific skill built by the old Soviet regime still stands; a university at Voronezh from where the Popovkin made his announcement, itself houses an award-winning aerospace department. It said that fully 70% of all the scientists in the world were resident in the old Soviet Union.
Of course, this blogger is most interested in the hints that counterfeit microchips or macro-electronics might be the cause. What points to this, apart from the Russian assertion?
Systems on the craft began malfunctioning early, not in a single catastrophic event. One by one, they rebooted, sending themselves into “sleep” mode or shutting down completely. It is much more a profile of systemic failure than external cause.
Repeated and major problems on recent Russian space missions: five failures or crashes in a recent short period
The Chinese origin of vital equipment. This needs to be mentioned, although it is not a likely suspect. Since the craft stalled in Earth orbit, the China-produced Mars orbiter, Inho-1, never had a chance to be used.
The January 24 publication on a Russian military affairs site of an article on Applied DNA Science's pilot project with an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense. The project aims to authenticate microchips bound for the military, and in that way screen for fakes. The article illustrated and named our SigNature DNA product, but did not name our company.
A more direct, if circumstantial fact: fully one-third of all goods sold in Russia are counterfeit (see our blog post). This prominently includes aviation, and may have contributed to some of the twenty-four major commercial air crashes of Russian craft in 2011 alone. Counterfeits are so common, mechanics routinely refer to their use of 'leviye' — the Russian word for "left," which in slang means "fake."
Probably we will never know what caused the Phobos-Grunt to come to grief. Not, that is, until the Russian government holds an investigation like the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearings in this country back in November, which named specific U.S. combat aircraft in which counterfeit parts were found. But clearly, there is increasing evidence that counterfeit electronics are already a major threat to health and safety worldwide.
“If we’re going to be successful, it’s because industry has picked it up”
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) of the U.S. Defense Department, pursuing initiatives to deter counterfeit technology from entering the U.S. military supply chain, has published an article on its website that spotlights the pilot program it has sponsored using DNA marking technology from Applied DNA Sciences, Inc. The DLA states that the pilot program "proved botanical DNA can be used to authenticate microcircuit chips.”
[Editor's note: the DLA-sponsored program is managed by none other than LMI, the expert agency tasked with design and management of advanced projects for the government]
Readers of these posts are very familiar with this program, which well preceded the blockbuster Senate hearings in November that blew the lid off the crisis of counterfeits flooding the military, and led to new strict anti-counterfeiting law signed over the New Year. The Senate hearings had identified thousands of electronic counterfeits in the military supply, and in specific weapons system.
It’s because this is the first time that the DLA has so visibly highlighted the program and publicly linked it to our major partners, the microcircuits manufacturing giant Altera, the highly-regarded parts distributor SMT. It also notes that “large manufacturers like Northrop Grumman and Raytheon have teamed up with DLA to discover how they, as system integrators, might also benefit from DNA marking.” The pilot, in other words, is a really big deal.
Yes, the DLA had already revealed that “DNA marking” is a priority—this in its public “Director’s Guidance for 2012.” But now Applied DNA Sciences is specifically named. And the piece ends with a clear message to defense contractors from DLA official Christine Metz: “If we’re going to be successful, it’s because industry has picked it up and said they want to use it voluntarily.” Metz added that while botanical DNA is easy and inexpensive to apply, more testing is needed.
Anti-counterfeiting program expanding
We should point out, as does the article, that DNA marking is only one of several anti-counterfeiting initiatives being pursued by the DLA. But perhaps “pursued” doesn’t capture the importance of this program. The pilot has been 100% successful in authenticating originality of microchips, and is now moving to plants abroad in a second phase.
Metz also notes that the pilot has greatly expanded its reach with the entry of SMT Corporation into the DNA marking process. SMT, a distributor known for rigorous testing, has long been concerned to screen not only newly manufactured microchips, but existing ones that may be no longer produced: “obsolete chips” in the trade. The testing, and now screening, is necessary because obsoletes are for many counterfeiters, their bread and butter.
Going after fakes among the 'obsoletes'
“This phase allows us to test a different type of authentication process because the items are already at the distributor,” Metz said, adding that the risk of receiving counterpart parts is higher with independent distributors, who typically don’t invest time and money to inspect the items they sell.
While some say the solution is to buy from original equipment manufacturers, Metz said that’s not practical for DLA and other DoD agencies because the parts they require are often obsolete and no longer in production. Military systems may be in service for decades, but the components may be manufactured for only two years.
A thoroughly interesting and important piece from the agency.
To read the article in its entirety, please visit the following link: