Scratching ICs

Thread Starter

Sparky49

Joined Jul 16, 2011
833
Hi all,

I've noticed that whilst taking apart various pieces of technology, that manufacturers sometimes scratch or sand off the name of the IC, to prevent people stealing their designs.

How common is this practice?

Is it worth sanding these ICs, or can they still be identified by someone who wants to find out.:confused:

Sparky
 

tom66

Joined May 9, 2009
2,595
It's only done because they are paranoid.

If you are determined, it is possible to "de-cap" a chip, and look directly at the die. The die will usually have distinguishing marks on it which will help in identifying it.

And of course, you've always got slip ups at the factory; someone not being thorough enough at the factory could lead to something like this:



One of the chips is not properly sanded and it gives the game away. AD9288 dual 8-bit 40/80/100 MSPS ADC. [From this image, a Rigol DS1052E: http://eevblog.com/images/DS1052E-ADC-FPGA.jpg]

Once one person posts this picture everybody knows what part is used.
 

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SgtWookie

Joined Jul 17, 2007
22,210
There are a HUGE variety of IC's being made in every package size and type. Sanding off the top of the IC makes it a bit more difficult to reverse-engineer a product.

Anything that delays a reverse-engineering attempt gives the original designer a market share advantage; as it will take more time and cost more money for someone to perform the reverse engineering.

The use of "house marked" parts is also quite popular. You'll note that some folks come on here looking for a particular part number that doesn't show up on any searches? It's likely a house-marked part that's also intended to make reverse-engineering the product more difficult.
 

PackratKing

Joined Jul 13, 2008
847
Won't the micro-, or not-so micro vibrations generated by that kind of grinding louse up the internal structure of the IC ?? making it more prone to failure ??
 

SgtWookie

Joined Jul 17, 2007
22,210
Well, ICs are pretty rugged internally once they're sealed up. The thing that usually causes them to eventually fail is thermal cycling; being turned on and off. The heating/cooling cycles causes the pins and internal substrate bonding wires to be flexed. It's basically like bending the tab on a soda can back and fourth a bunch of times; eventually metal fatigue kicks in and the tab breaks off.

The sanding of the IC would occur prior to the burn-in period. Reputable manufacturers usually operate their products for 24 hours or more prior to packaging/shipping them, as the vast majority of failures will occur during burn-in.
 
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