The Semiconductor Shortage Is Causing Cyber Security Problems

With only a few companies dominating global semiconductor manufacturing, a problem with any one can have significant repercussions and the semiconductor supply chain is already fragile from globally disrupted supply chains caused by Coronavirus. 

Increasingly, hardware can be the entry point for a cyber attack. Demand for consumer electronics, including laptops and video games consoles, soared as people moved to work from home and looked for new ways of entertainment. As the use of electronic devices grows, their components have become increasingly vulnerable to malicious tampering and counterfeiting in ways that could compromise the safety of cars, airplanes, electric grids and defense systems. 

Among them are semiconductor chips that make it possible for electronic devices to process, store and transmit data. To address this risk, several universities in the US have established a new research center focused on protecting the security of semiconductors. 

Led by the University of Cincinnati, the new Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust (CHEST), is a National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center that serves as a hub for industry-focused research and currently comprises 23 members across industry and governmental laboratories. The University of Texas leads the consortium’s research on the security and trust of wireless communication devices, threat detection and prevention, protection of intellectual property from unauthorized use, and provenance attestation, which involves a record that describes entities and processes involved in producing the devices.

Dr. Yiorgos Makris, professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, University of Texas said: “Suppose a bad actor replaces a chip during a service or upgrade, enabling capabilities that can cause the power distribution network to fail... Semiconductor tampering also has implications for consumer electronics, such as wireless communication devices, where private data may be leaked by untrusted chips, or the automotive industry, where safety may be compromised by counterfeit parts.” 

The global shortage of semiconductors increases the risk of the use of counterfeit parts, Makris said. Desperate suppliers or consumers turn to the gray market to find partsCompanies that design the chips potentially can lose control of what happens to their intellectual property during the manufacturing process.

While the US is a leader in semiconductor design, most of the manufacturing has shifted progressively out of the country over the past 30 years, leaving the US vulnerable to supply chain disruptions out of its control, according to an April 2021 study by the Semiconductor Industry Association. 

Verdict:        Talent 101:      CNBC:      Enterprise Times:        IHLS:     Image: Unsplash

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