Parts counterfeiting presents a serious concern for manufacturers, and a California company has designed a technique to protect OEMs and operators. “About two percent of the 26 million parts installed on aircraft worldwide
are counterfeit; that’s roughly half a million parts, ranging from hardware to advanced electronics equipment,” Ben Jun, vice president of technology for Crypto- graphy Research, told AIN.
Cryptography Research is a San Francisco security R&D firm that focuses on solving piracy and fraud problems. The company works on smart-card security, anti-piracy for satellite and cable tv and financial services anti-fraud.
Parts counterfeiting has attrac-ted the attention of regulators in recent years. A 2007 International Chamber of Commerce report, Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy, cited Russian gangs illegally producing aircraft parts and selling them in Russia and to other nations. The group was arrested after stealing components from the Saturn plant in central Russia and producing and selling civil aircraft parts.
Investigators said that for about three years former and current Saturn employees manufactured aircraft parts, marked them with identification numbers and provided them with fake documents. The parts were then sold through a chain of mediators to representatives of Russian and foreign airlines and aircraft maintenance enterprises. The seized parts, worth more than $142,000, were intended for Tu-154 passenger airplanes and Il-76 freighters.
A 2006 FAA suspected unapproved parts investigation uncovered similar problems in the U.S. That investigation revealed that Hill Industries sold unapproved tail rotor hanger bearings. Hill also represented the bearings as Bell Helicopter Textron approved.
According to the FAA, evidence indicated that Hill, without Bell Helicopter Textron approval, electro-etched two different Bell Helicopter Textron part numbers on the unapproved bearings.
“Counterfeits displace legitimate sales, devalue brands and create customer service expenses. The question every operator must ask is ‘how confident am I that I’m buying good parts,’” Jun said.
While bogus parts can range from hardware to sophisticated electronic equipment, Cryptography Research focuses on operational–rather than structural–components.
“Technological solutions to counterfeiting can provide an effective solution. Tamper-resistant semiconductors can prevent counterfeiting outright, avoiding the cost, time and complexity of tracing and suing counterfeiters around the world,” Jun said.
“To be effective, anti-counterfeiting technologies must introduce elements that are infeasible for even well funded adversaries to clone. As a result, robust tamper- resistance and anti-cloning properties are essential,” he explained. To meet this need, Cryptography Research has developed an electronic chip, called CryptoFirewall, for authenticating parts at risk for counterfeiting.
“We’re dealing with parts that typically have small electrical boxes that already communicate with other parts on the aircraft such as avionics equipment, actuators and sensor packages. It is a small incremental cost to the manufacturer to embed our chip in a pre-existing module,” he said.
According to Jun, aircraft original equipment manufacturers have two primary concerns: remanufacturing and cloning.
Remanufacturing is taking a product at the end of its service life and making it appear to be new. “The primary issue here is one of safety,” Jun said. “[Re-manufacturing involves] falsely representing an original part.”
Cloning, or counterfeiting, a part is what happens when someone designs a part that looks like the original manufacturer’s part but has not gone through the rigors of the FAA certification and inspection process.
Manufacturers are concerned about unauthorized parts for two major reasons. Unauthorized parts will likely compromise the safety of the aircraft, and they cut into the revenue generated by parts sales.
The CryptoFirewall system is designed to prevent cloning and remanufacturing. The company embeds the chip in the part the manufacturer wants to prevent being cloned, and “the chip communicates with a host computer in the aircraft, or even another chip elsewhere on the aircraft, using a challenge/response protocol that verifies the chip is an authentic part,” Jun explained.
A bogus part wouldn’t have the chip and the aircraft would recognize it as an imposter.
According to Jun, the chip can also be used to prevent remanufacturing. “We can track the number of hours or actuations, among other things, of a given part to [thwart] remanufacturing. When the chip recognizes that the part has reached the manufacturer’s specified limit it will go through whatever notification process the manufacturer wishes.”
In essence, it prevents the dishonest individual from “turning back the odometer” and selling the part as new to an unsuspecting buyer. Jun also explained that the technology permits the storage of frequently updated information in the part itself rather than by the mechanic in a paper log. It will also store information such as cycles or time in service that might not otherwise be recorded.
“The most important thing to ask your vendor is how we know your parts can’t be replaced by unapproved parts,” Jun said. “Manufacturers that use this type of technology are allowing for two types of important verification.
“There is verification of authenticity at the point of installation, using a small terminal to check it in real time against a database that will authenticate the part.
The second verification occurs during every start-up process when the system runs a status check of the part. It’s double peace of mind: you know you’re purchasing an approved part and you’re verifying it every time you use the aircraft,” he explained.
The technology is appropriate for parts that already contain microchips. “We’re adding another square millimeter to the part, and manufacturers have found that quite compelling for protecting expensive parts. The cost of adding the CryptoFirewall is more than offset by the increase in authorized parts sales and elimination of the safety concern.”