more on malicious hardware

Peter Gutmann pgut001 at
Sun Apr 27 01:36:51 EDT 2008

"Perry E. Metzger" <perry at>

>It turns out that the counterfeit chips business is booming:

If you look at the linked article you'll see the example they give of
counterfeit chips is:

>The fake chips are often rebranded parts claiming greater performance than
>they actually have to earn the sellers a fast profit.

which has been going on for about 15 years or so [0], back then they'd grind
the tops off the ceramic heat spreader on P5s and print on a new speed rating,
later when distributors got wise to this they went to laser-etched labels that
were indistinguishable from the originals.

The other example given in the article was chips for avionics/milspec use,
which just means that they rebranded standard non-milspec parts as being for
milspec use, and that scam predates CPU speed re-gradings by some time (in my
device zoo I have some interesting not-really-milspec 7400s dating back to the
early 80s, as well as other oddities like Apple-branded TTL and who knows what
else).  Neither of these are really counterfeits, they're genuine chips
remarked for use outside their intended use parameters.  In fact given the
overclockability of many CPU binnings and the fact that manufacturers have in
the past sold CPUs at lower speed grades than they tested for at manufacture
in order to meet price points (in other words a CPU was tested for x MHz,
branded for x - y MHz to meet a price point, and then had the branding ground
off and was re-branded for its original binned speed by dodgy re-
distributors), the result may be no loss at all [1].

It'd be interesting to see some figures for genuine faked-from-whole-cloth
devices vs. basic re-brandings/re-binnings/whatever of original products, I
would imagine there's vastly more re-branding and re-binning going on than
someone actually cloning (say) a CMI8788 and selling it as the real thing.


[0] And probably for a long time before that, AFAIK it first became a major
    issue when the high price differential between different speed binnings 
    of P5s made it a lucrative business.  Making a non-milspec 7404 into a 
    milspec part was a lot less profitable.
[1] That one should keep the lawyers busy: If I sell a device de-rated purely
    to meet a price point and someone else on-sells it at its original 
    designed rating, with what would you prosecute them?

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