The program is called Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronics Defense, or SHIELD, and is focused on developing a small (100 micron x 100 micron) component, or dielet, that authenticates the provenance of electronics components.
The proposed dielets would contain a full encryption engine and sensors to detect tampering and would readily affix to today's electronic components such as microchips.
Counterfeit electronic components in the defense supply chain is a major problem, according to DARPA, with over more than 1 million suspected parts associated with known supply chain compromises in the past two years alone.
The hoped-for SHIELD technology would provide 100 percent assurance against common counterfeit threat modes such as recycled components sold as new; unlicensed over-production of authorized components; test rejects and sub-standard components sold as high-quality components; parts marked with falsely elevated reliability or date of manufacture details; and clones and copies, which may be of low quality.
"SHIELD demands a tool that costs less than a penny per unit, yet makes counterfeiting too expensive and technically difficult to do," said Kerry Bernstein, DARPA program manager.
"The dielet will be designed to be robust in operation, yet fragile in the face of tampering. What SHIELD is seeking is a very advanced piece of hardware that will offer an on-demand authentication method never before available to the supply chain."
DARPA said the dielet would be inserted into the electronic component's package at the manufacturing site or affixed to existing components. It would be done without any alteration of the host component's design or reliability and there would be no electrical connection between the dielet and the host component.
Testing of components could be performed anywhere through the use of a handheld probe, after which an inexpensive appliance, such as a Smartphone, would upload a serial number to a central, industry-owned server.
The server would then send an unencrypted challenge to the dielet, which would send back an encrypted answer and data from passive sensors which could indicate tampering, DARPA said.
"The Department of Defense puts severe demands on electronics, which is why a trusted supply chain is so important" said Bernstein. "SHIELD is a technology demonstration leveraging the asymmetry of scaling for security. While the program is being funded by DARPA, industry will adapt future implementations to make the technology scalable to the industry and the Defense supply chain."
A proposers' day workshop in support of the program is being held next month, the agency said.