[ISN] Smart Card Antihack Hardware System

From: mea culpa (jerichot_private)
Date: Thu Oct 29 1998 - 00:18:25 PST

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    Smart Card Antihack Hardware System
    28-10-1998 21:17 
     SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA, U.S.A. 1998 OCT 28 (Newsbytes) -- By Craig Menefee,
    Newsbytes. Schlumberger, the European firm whose Smart Cards & Terminals
    group is now pivotal in the smart card industry, has announced a
    hardware-based data shield against unauthorized smart card access or
    "crack" attempts that use probes, electron beams or ion beams to probe the
       It sounds like science fiction, but Schlumberger officials say real
    attempts have been reported that used such tools to plumb cards for their
    data. Smart card contents can run from credit card numbers to physical
    access authorizations and can be valuable to thieves who manage to snoop
    out the data.
       Schlumberger officials told Newsbytes late Tuesday the firm believes
    the answer is a physical shield against such "cracking" attempts, which is
    needed, they said, for the cards to reach their full financial or security
       Ironically, Schlumberger's anticracking "solution" is to make a smart
    card's internal chip itself crack to pieces, becoming unreadable, when
       The actual system is called SiShell, pronounced "seashell." It works by
    changing the physical layering of components at the chipmaking plant. 
       David Karpenske, Schlumberger's vice president of marketing in the
    firm's San Jose office, explained to Newsbytes that manufacturers using
    the system will layer a compound on top of the wafer used for smart card
    integrated circuits (ICs). The compound shatters, taking the underlying IC
    with it, if someone attempts to pull out information by using probe
    needles, e-beams or ion beams.
       "The approach allows you to discourage physical attacks," said
    Karpenske. "What happens is that the compound, bonded to the chip, is
    brittle. That makes the chip itself brittle, in effect. If you try to
    probe the device, it will fragment to pieces."
       To make it work, Karpenske said, the manufacturer must restructure the
    chip. No circuits have to change, but the chip layers are deposited
    differently, with less depth at the back of the device. As a result, the
    chip "features" or circuits are layered onto a much thinner wafer.  When
    the compound is added, it brings the whole assembly back up to the
    original thickness, so nothing else has to change.
       "What happens is that if you try to probe through the compound, it
    actually fractures and the silicon device itself breaks into pieces,"
    Karpenske explained.
       Karpenske says the process mechanisms are already in place at various
    manufacturers, although he declined to specify which ones. He did say
    adopting the system is not expensive since it involves no design or form
    factor changes.
       He said probe-resistant chips will start sampling in the first quarter
    of 1999, ramping up to production from there.
       As for how critical the technology may be to market acceptance of the
    cards in areas like the US, Karpenske said the answer depends on how
    important physical security may be.
       "In any market, whether it's geographic or oriented toward
    applications, when security is critical you'll find a lot of standards
    that cover logical security. What this does is provide a layer of physical
    security. It won't let hackers even make physical attacks to find data
    pin-outs or the like." 
       Karpenske says there is a market for such chips and vendors in several
    areas are already looking at the system's ability to add a layer of
    security, ranging "from financial to pay TV."
       More information is available on the Internet at
    http://www.slb.com/smartcards .
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