The move by the semiconductor industry to a fabless business model has created new opportunities to pirate chip designs. Design exceeds supply for some of the high-value, medium technology integrated circuits manufactured by the foundries. With the will and the means to exploit these opportunities, thieves may begin to make and sell integrated circuits based on design IP that does not belong to them.

The semiconductor industry has been aggressive and diligent about protecting its intellectual property from unauthorized use, but disaggregation has brought new parties into the picture. High-value, medium technology integrated circuits are no longer designed and fabricated, packaged, and sold by a single integrated device manufacturer; instead several unrelated companies work together to bring a design to market. The fabless ecosystem has new vulnerabilities that allow unethical parties to make and sell integrated circuits based on surreptitiously obtained copies of someone else's design IP.

Companies across the fabless ecosystem have stringent security measures in place to discourage IP theft. Yet the success of these measures depends on trust that no one within the manufacturing chain will divert IP, whether at the block level or at the chip level, to unauthorized use. There is no way to track IP once it is released to the foundry.

As a standard practice, fabless design houses encrypt their IP before sending it to the Foundry. By necessity, foundry staff must decrypt the IP to manufacture the design, leaving it vulnerable to theft from within. Diverted IP may be used directly or it may be obfuscated in some way, for example by rerouting upper metal layers. There are enough ways to obfuscate IP that foundries will not police customer designs to look for IP theft. They do not have the tools to analyze every component of every design.

Even if foundry management is honest, it takes only one dishonest employee to make a copy of valuable design data. This leaves IP providers and fabless design houses in a quandary - to make money, they must release their designs to the foundry, but this also makes them vulnerable to IP theft. New tools are needed to detect misuse of valuable IP, even after it has been obfuscated.

Yotta's IP Ownership Manager can automatically detect, isolate and report any changes to an owners's IP whether the change had been made to obscure the use of the IP or the change was a deliberate attempt to change the IP so that the design failed while in the field. The automated scan quickly isolates and reports what has changed within a design and where the change(s) had taken place. The technology does report partial matches as well. 

High Volume, High Value Medium Technology IC Designs Likely Targets for IP Theft in the Future
"The Company's technology established a common expectation amongst suppliers and customers regarding matters of OASIS compliance, performance and interoperability" 

Naoya Hayashi
Electronic Device Laboratory
Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd
Workflow Auditor Point Tools
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