Machines with built-in copy protection

Dec 10, 2012
Researchers are developing technical safeguards. Credit: Volker Steger

Pirated goods cost German industry billions, and expensive industrial goods like machining systems are becoming a growing target. Scientists are turning the tables on the forgers by studying their methods and developing anti-counterfeit solutions.

The annual cost to industry of of branded products is estimated at a staggering 650 billion U.S. dollars worldwide, and German machine tool manufacturers are becoming an increasingly popular target for pirating operations. Around one third of all companies have seen their business eroded by cheap imitations of their products, especially manufacturers of textile machines, compressors and plastics processing equipment. "Most companies have absolutely no idea just how easily their products can be copied," says Bartol Filipovic, head of the Product Protection department at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Applied and Integrated Security AISEC in Garching near Munich. The AISEC advises companies on how best to protect their products and IT services from unlawful attacks on their proprietary rights (overview of product protection: http://ais.ec/psinfo).

In the world of industrial machines, there are forgeries of almost everything that can be copied, from housing design to instruction manuals. The most critical elements are those that give a product its "intrinsic value": and software that constitute its . This makes embedded systems with measurement, control, or signal processing functions prime targets for forgers. Product pirates tend to steer clear of getting their own hands dirty, preferring to engage the services of those offering "reverse engineering". This involves performing the same development process only in the opposite direction, which begins by analyzing exactly how the hardware is put together and creating circuit diagrams of the original product. Reverse engineers can then rip the software and reconstruct the machine's control system and functions, thereby gaining access to the manufacturer's key know-how.

In addition to conducting research, AISEC's most important role is instructive. Many companies react only once counterfeits of their own products have surfaced on the market. Although it is then too late to prevent fake copies, it is possible to tag the original so that it can be distinguished from imitations. The aviation industry marks safety-critical spare parts with copy-resistant holograms; it is also possible to build a kind of indelible electronic fingerprint into the circuit. But taking any number of safety precautions is not going to be enough to deter manufacturers of fake products, and trade in them can only be stopped when customs officers, distributors and customers are all equipped with the devices needed to read and decode the markings. As this is often not the case, companies should see to it that suitable protection mechanisms are placed deep within the hardware when developing each new product range. The optimum scenario is for clients to consult AISEC before completing this phase, and have their developers share the proposed hardware setup, circuit diagrams and software with AISEC's product protection team – in strictest confidence, of course. AISEC's researchers analyze this information to identify any weaknesses and offer suggestions for making the product more secure.

Targeted technical methods guard against forgery

One option is to install cryptographic devices that encrypt the data stored within the machine. These devices generate the corresponding decryption key based on the duration of electrical signals on the microchip. The signals emitted by other chips, even those from the same production batch, will be of a slightly different duration, rendering the key unusable. Another option is to use hardwired control units. These purpose-built chips make it extremely difficult for offenders to rip the software and run it using standard chips built into product imitations. However, it is possible for companies to safeguard computer programs without the need for special hardware; for instance by adopting obfuscation techniques. It is definitely worthwhile for companies to analyze and develop suitable technical safeguards, says Bartol Filipovic. "The service we provide is less costly than the damages inflicted by product piracy." The cost of such services varies according to the scope of analysis and the extent of the protection required.

Through its advice, AISEC aims to buy companies as much time as possible. Companies that have implemented AISEC recommendations enjoy at least five to ten years relief from attacks by product counterfeiters. This time lead is crucial for companies to protect their expensive investments. The technological know-how required to manufacture industrial goods does not go out of date as quickly as that for consumer goods, making it thoroughly worthwhile for forgers to copy a machine even if it has already been on the market for five years. Equipping goods with the latest protection methods means that forgers would simply be wasting their time. "I'm not aware of a single case where someone has successfully broken through our safeguards," says Filipovic.

Explore further: Facebook's Internet.org expands in Zambia

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fingerprint makes chips counterfeit-proof

Feb 08, 2011

Product counterfeiters are increasingly targeting chips and electronic components, with attacks on hardware modules becoming commonplace. Tailor-made security technology utilizes a component‘s individual ...

Secure updates for navigation systems and company

Oct 05, 2011

At the push of a button by the driver, control units download the car manufacturer's new software -- such as enhanced map material for the navigation system. To ensure that this data channel is protected from hacker attack, ...

Explosives prevent technology theft

Jun 25, 2009

Product piracy causes billions worth of damage worldwide. A combination of visible and invisible copy protection is really effective against this. Explosive embossing is an economical procedure and can be ...

New statistics on business innovation released by NSF

Oct 06, 2010

Preliminary figures from the Business R&D and Innovation Survey (BRDIS)--fielded for the first time in 2009--indicate that some 22 percent of companies in manufacturing industries reported one or more produc ...

NEC Develops Software to Give Companies Competitive Edge

Dec 04, 2007

NEC has developed a software that will aid companies in essential decision making for releasing new products. In addition, the software will monitor and analyze a company´s competitors products and services to keep up with ...

Software with X- Factor

Jul 29, 2004

Cambridge Consultants launches xIDE - a generic Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that can be customized for embedded system and semiconductor companies to create software development kits for ASSP, structured ...

Recommended for you

Facebook's Internet.org expands in Zambia

Jul 31, 2014

(AP)—Facebook's Internet.org project is taking another step toward its goal of bringing the Internet to people who are not yet online with an app launching Thursday in Zambia.

Body by smartphone

Jul 30, 2014

We love our smartphones. Since they marched out of the corporate world and into the hands of consumers about 10 years ago, we've relied more and more on our iPhone and Android devices to organize our schedules, ...

Breakthrough elastic cloud-to cloud networking

Jul 30, 2014

Scientists from AT&T, IBM and Applied Communication Sciences (ACS) announced a proof-of-concept technology that reduces set up times for cloud-to-cloud connectivity from days to seconds. This advance is a major step forward ...

Security CTO to detail Android Fake ID flaw at Black Hat

Jul 29, 2014

Where have you heard this before: A team of security researchers discover a security flaw in Android devices. This is, however, news. This time, experts are talking about a flaw that involves a widespread ...

User comments : 0