CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
March 31, 2020
Forward Thinking

MIT's "tag of everything" could protect the supply chain

Researchers develop tiny, battery-free ID chip that can authenticate nearly any product to help combat losses to counterfeiting.

Researchers at MIT have developed a millimeter-sized, cryptographic identification (ID) tag that they say represents a giant leap forward in the fight to curb counterfeiting and create a more secure supply chain. Announced at an industry conference earlier this month, the battery-free ID chip is small enough to fit on virtually any product and smart enough to verify its authenticity across complex supply chains, the researchers said.

"We call it the 'tag of everything.' And everything should mean everything," said MIT's Ruonan Han, co-author of a paper on the project presented at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) February 19 in San Francisco. "If I want to track the logistics of, say, a single bolt or tooth implant or silicon chip, current RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags don't enable that. We built a low-cost, tiny chip without packaging, batteries, or other external components, that stores and transmits sensitive data."

The 1.6 square-millimeter-sized solution runs on relatively low levels of power supplied by photovoltaic diodes. It also transmits data at far ranges, using a power-free "backscatter" technique that operates at much higher frequencies than traditional tags used to track and authenticate products. Algorithm optimization techniques allow the chip to run a popular cryptography scheme that guarantees secure communications using extremely low energy, the researchers also said.

The hope is that the chip, which the researchers say is inexpensive to manufacture and implement, will help combat the roughly $2 trillion worth of counterfeit goods expected to be sold worldwide this year.

"The U.S. semiconductor industry [suffers] $7 billion to $10 billion in losses annually because of counterfeit chips," said MIT researcher Wasiq Khan, who also worked on the project. "Our chip can be seamlessly integrated into other electronic chips for security purposes, so it could have a huge impact on industry. Our chips cost a few cents each, but the technology is priceless."

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