January 25, 2012

DNA Tagging: Secret Weapon Against Industrial Espionage

By: Bruce Rayner

Source: EBN

Counterfeiting is a serious problem, and by all accounts it's getting worse, especially in the military and aerospace sector.

Keeping one-step ahead of the bad guys in the detection of fake parts requires sophisticated equipment that few companies can afford. Yet, based on language in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA 2012) that President Obama signed into law on the last day of 2011, companies that serve the military market have no choice but to pay the price -- one way or another.

The Act specifically states that contractors "are responsible for detecting and avoiding the use or inclusion of counterfeit electronic parts or suspect counterfeit electronic parts." If they don't they foot the bill for the rework. They are also required to source from "trusted suppliers," which the act defines as original component manufacturers or authorized distributors. If the parts aren't available from either of these two sources, then contractors can source from "additional trusted suppliers." Exactly what that means is yet to be determined -- perhaps in a court of law.

Because of the magnitude of the problem, companies are coming up with creative solutions to reduce the threat of counterfeiting. Stony Brook, NY-based Applied DNA Sciences is looking to solve the problem once and for all. In a two-month proof-of-concept project funded by the Defense Logistics Agency in 2011, the company supplied ink containing its proprietary plant-based DNA to a chip maker that used it to mark the packages of its finished semiconductors. When the chips entered the supply chain, distributors were able to identify 100 percent of the marked chips to confirm their authenticity.

The success of that exercise led to an 18-month pilot program that will test the technology on a commercial high-volume scale. Separately, Applied DNA Sciences is providing Connecticut-based independent electronics distributor SMT Corp. with DNA ink to mark the components that pass its counterfeit testing program. SMT is a leader in the testing and detection of counterfeit parts.

Just this week, the company followed up with the announcement of a joint venture to take its patented technology to the next level -- or to be more precise, to the nano level. As part of a government-funded program, the company is partnering with the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) at the University of Albany to tag chips at stages in the fabrication process. Calling it "nanosecurity," Applied DNA and CNSE issued a press release last week Tuesday touting the new "nano-chip anti-counterfeiting program." CNSE expects the process will be validated within a few months. Read More