UK consultancy Accenture has worked with French electronics maker Thales to develop a demonstrator that uses a number of different security techniques to provide security for electronic components throughout the supply chain using the same technology as digital currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.
The system is not just about security, but integration with the payment and business systems using smart contracts so that large OEMs can easily see the provenance of components says Mark Walton-Hayfield of Accenture Digital who led the development.
“Counterfeit parts are a real threat in manufacturing,” he said. “Earlier in 2017 the US armed services estimated that 15 percent of the components in their machinery are counterfeit. We don’t even have an estimate for what that is in the UK military, but we should anticipate that it is comparable.”
The UK military introduced new standards for components in 2014 but there has been limited take up. ““Implementing stricter standards is an important step in improving quality in the supply chain, but so is enforcement,” said Walton-Hayfield. “We’ve developed this new technology to help companies do that quicker, easier and more accurately.
Accenture has demonstrated the system using an NFC-based crypto-tag on a bag of diodes, and using a physically unclonable feature (PUF) element in an FPGA, but other security techniques and sensors can be easily used.
The NFC and PFU identifiers are then linked to the anonymous, secure ledger that is at the heart of the blockchain technology. Whether Accenture holds the ledger or the OEM is a matter of the business model, he says. Accenture and Thales are also working on cryptographic key management and distribution technology based on blockchain called the Thales Hardware Security Module (HSM) that could be part of this system.
“Ensuring that equipment reliably performs to specification, without compromise, is critical to the stability and safety of our armed forces and this means that the defence supply chain has to assure the MOD that the right equipment is being used,” said Gareth Williams, VP Secure Communications and Information Systems at Thales UK.
“The impact of non-conforming components in mission and safety critical systems, be they hardware, firmware or software is huge, not only to the operational user, but also to suppliers and integrators who are impacted negatively by grey market and counterfeit goods through reputation and re-work. As part of this programme Thales has further developed its electronic component fingerprinting technology, which when integrated with blockchain based technologies provides very strong levels of assurance and trust.”
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