Electronics Engineering Management — Counterfeit Electronics Components

By Seema Sabikhi Noida, U.P. India.


Counterfeiting has a long and despicable history, ranging from art and literature to manufactured goods. Unlike other industries, counterfeiting in the aerospace industry may have life or death consequences. We take the problem seriously. Thus, all stakeholders from industry and government must work together to effectively reduce the introduction of counterfeit parts into the aerospace supply chain and minimize their impact.

The introduction of counterfeit parts whether they are electronic, mechanical or other adversely affects government, industry, consumers which includes National security or civilian safety issues and costs of enforcement

Counterfeit parts are an escalating global supply chain challenge where a single occurrence represents widespread risk to product cost and quality, human safety, and national security.

Aerospace and defense products are targets for counterfeiters because the systems are intended for use over extended time, leaving them vulnerable to obsolescence of parts, materials, subsystems and technologies. As the time of system use increases, a substantial number of the parts required to support aerospace and defense products are no longer available from the original equipment/component manufacturers (OEMs/OCMs) or through franchised or authorized suppliers. The aerospace and defense product manufacturer and government, however, both take on risks when acquiring parts and materials through distribution channels other than those franchised or authorized by the original manufacturer.

Though we know counterfeit parts enter the aerospace supply chain, the time and place of their entry is unpredictable. Managing this uncertainty has become more important due to the recent rise in the incidence of counterfeit reporting. We must reduce the entry and effects from counterfeit parts through increased diligence and active control measures. To accomplish this, it is necessary to have greater collaboration both within industry and with government.

Procurement policies and selection of suppliers creates an opportunity to significantly reduce the risk of counterfeit parts from entering the supply chain. Companies should develop a counterfeit parts control plan to outline what processes a company will use in mitigating the risk, disposition and reporting of counterfeit parts. A company that procures electronic parts should have a plan to ensure counterfeit parts are not received into inventory, utilized in manufacturing or inadvertently sold to other parties.

Government to strengthen the Government-Industry Data Exchange Program (GIDEP)Process, including a provision for limited liability for those who accurately report counterfeit Parts through GIDEP, as well as other improvements in the regulatory environment.


This paper presents background information on counterfeit parts in the aerospace and defense industry and the recommendations developed by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA). The goal is to raise awareness and mitigate the risks associated with counterfeit parts.

Counterfeit Electronic Components are causing major problems in the electronics industry. The problems affect production, warranty costs and safety of aerospace, military, medical electronics and many forms of consumer electronics.

It has been noted with industry estimates that, in the electronics supply chain, total global economic value of counterfeit and pirated products is as much as $650 billion every year, estimates imply that the global value of counterfeit and pirated products could be up to $1.77 trillion by 2015.

The graph given below demonstrates that counterfeit products are being discovered majorly in ICs which includes microprocessors, other microcircuits product categories.

Source of Counterfeits

Further discrete component and microcircuit manufacturers were asked to identify the top ten countries suspected or confirmed to be sources of counterfeit electronic parts. China was most frequently identified by OCMs as a source of counterfeits, with Asia as the most predominant regional source.

The “Other” column in Figure 2. is comprised of the following countries: Singapore, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, North Korea, the United Kingdom, Paraguay, Iran, Georgia, Hungary, Chile, Romania, and Uruguay.

Another sourcing concern is how counterfeit components are entering into the supply chain. OCMs participating in the survey identified separate entities that have sold or distributed Counterfeit product, ranging from parts brokers to OCMs.

The cost of counterfeit parts entering the supply chain is greater than simple replacement of the counterfeit part. Ramifications could include potential product failure, warranty costs, inspections and testing, lost revenue, loss of intellectual property such as trademark value and compromising national security. For space applications, the cost of mission failure may include the potential loss of entire platforms, such as satellites, due to inaccessibility for repair.

Why there is serious concern of Counterfeiting in Aerospace and Defense Parts

There are unique conditions that make aerospace and defense products susceptible to counterfeiting, including a long life cycle and diminishing manufacturing sources and material shortages issues

Aerospace and defense products are generally designed for a long life cycle. An average life span of an aircraft is 20 years. With this life span of an aircraft, the technologies, particularly electronic components such as microchips get change. Even the software used to design and support, the infrastructure used to store information for the aircraft and the Manufacturing processes used to assemble the aircraft will get change too and these changes may increase profligately as technology evolves.

Therefore, supporting aerospace and defense products throughout their lifecycle sometimes requires the use of parts that may no longer be available from the OCM, original equipment manufacturer (OEM), authorized aftermarket manufacturer.

When parts and materials, such as microcircuits, are acquired through distribution channels other than those franchised or authorized by the original manufacturer, such as an independent distributor or broker, there is the potential to receive parts that do not meet the original specifications.

Moreover the implementation of the RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) directive in several countries has created demand for lead-free parts and generated a shortage of leaded parts as component manufacturers have migrated their process to meet the new regulations.

The need for obsolete components, the need for leaded components in a lead-free world, the need for lead-free older components for repairs or for special applications, have created an opportunity that has been met with “imagination” in some cases.

Source of generation of Counterfeit Components.

A worldwide epidemic of counterfeit electronic components is flooding the market and affects the supply chains of all industries. Counterfeiting becomes profitable when scrapped components, components from recycled products or inexpensive components can be “remarked” and sold as a new, more expensive, higher reliability version.


  • The origins of these counterfeit parts are electronic waste from where electronic components were removed as shown in below process and then refurbished and/or relabeled and resold back to the market.


E-waste: E-waste consists of all waste from electronic and electrical appliances which have reached their end- of- life period or are no longer fit for their original intended use and are destined for recovery, recycling or disposal. Due to its improper disposition it has become feedstock for Counterfeiters.

E-waste Processing: First de-soldering of circuit boards over a coal-fired grill. Rock in the box is where boards are hit to remove solder. Pliers are used to pluck off chips which go into various buckets. The boards are then tossed into a pile for open burning. As solder is, components are being removed. Further relabeling is done, where the original markings are generally sanded off the top of the component. A new layer of polymer, termed blacktopping, is applied to mask the sanding marks, and new markings consistent with those of the target component are applied.

Global Electronics market: An open market where these counterfeits are sold and where there is no product traceability. Online trading platforms, rapid access to millions of parts, open the doors for anyone to sell anything with few or no rules or regulations.

End user: The ultimate user who uses the product.


  • The other Source is the complete manufacture of a reverse engineered device to have the same form, fit, and function as the original. Devices are produced on low end equipment and will not meet the original reliability requirements. Devices are branded and sold as Original Component Manufacturer (OCM) parts.



The screening techniques currently in use have evolved out of necessity. These methods have been successful because they target the ways in which counterfeiting is performed. Generally, used components are either refurbished and resold as new, or relabeled and sold as something different.

Non–destructive techniques

External Visual Inspection, X-ray inspection, Electrical Testing.

All that is required is an optical microscope, X-ray and a trained eye – the trained eye being the most important of the three. Signs of counterfeiting are often very subtle and there is no substitute for experience. For electrical testing, Curve tracer is used.

1. Optical microscope/High Magnification Inspection

It is used to conduct external visual inspection on parts to verify the attributes of parts such as component part number, marking, lead straightness, color, or any anomaly related to the integrity of the devices such as cracks, dents, scratches, mechanical anomalies, spelling errors, suspect date codes, suspect manufacturers’ logos, breaks, or corrosions.

Few examples of Visual inspections are given below.

2. X-Ray Inspection

X-ray inspection is used to conduct internal inspection on parts to verify the attributes of parts such as die size, and bond wire alignment, missing die.

X-ray microscopy is made even more effective when suspected components can be compared to a known authentic part. Figure 8 is a series of x-ray images of four components with exactly the same external markings, but which demonstrate internal structural differences.

3. Scanning Acoustic Microscopy (SAM)

It is a form of ultrasound, has been demonstrated to be an effective anti-counterfeiting screening tool. SAM uses cyclical sound waves to determine density differences within a sample. It is one of the only techniques capable of efficiently evaluating popcorning in PBGA’s

SAM can be focused at different depths within the component to locate potential irregularities. When focused on the surface, SAM can show evidence of relabeling and, when compared to a known good component, it can show differences in surface texture indicative of blacktopping. When focused slightly subsurface, SAM can detect scratch marks under a layer of blacktopping. And, when focused inside the component, SAM can detect evidence of prior use and rework such as cracking, voiding and delamination.

4. XRF

X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) is used to identify elemental constituents. It is mainly used to determine the “RoHS” status of a part. If the part markings indicate that a part is RoHS compliant and the part is determined through XRF analysis not to be ROHS compliant then it can be reasonably assumed that the part has been modified from its original condition.

Since the majority of active components contain trace amounts of silver (Au) and or gold (Ag) in the die, failure to register any gold or silver when examining the semiconductor body may also indicate that there is no die in the part.

5. Electrical testing

Electrical analysis is helpful in determining authenticity. Although full datasheet testing is recommended for high reliability applications, a curve trace on each lead is a very effective way to begin an electrical examination of the parts. A “known good” component is required.

Destructive techniques

1. Blacktop Examination

A fast and easy method to determine if a part has been remarked or resurfaced is to rub the component body with a chemical agent. To test for remarking, a solution consisting of three parts mineral spirits and one part isopropyl alcohol is commonly used. If the marking is able to be removed using this solution, the sample is likely a counterfeit. To test for resurfacing, acetone is typically used; this will remove the blacktopping but not affect the original material present underneath.

2. Decapsulation & Die verification

Decapsulation is the process of removing the outer material from a semiconductor to reveal the die that is contained within the device.

It can be accomplished by mechanically or chemically removing the lid or top layers of the component body to expose the die and internal structures of the component. Chemical decapsulation is primarily performed on plastic encapsulated components and is accomplished by jetting various acids onto the surface of the component and quickly dissolving the plastic. Automated equipment like “IC Decapsulation with single & dual acid systems” is made for this sole purpose.

Decapping the part to reveal the die is only the beginning of the process. Once the die is available for optical examination the die must be viewed under a fairly high magnification for examination of the die layout, and die markings. The markings on the die should be consistent with the markings on the outside of the component.

Since not all die markings clearly identify the part, the die of a known good device for comparison is the best method to determine if the die is authentic.

Few examples of Counterfeit components are given below.

Figure12: The die on the right is missing a mask level


Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) offers a great benefit in the examination of the microscopic internal structures of components. It is used to verify the elemental composition of the metallization layers, molding compounds or the solder plating composition on the part termination.

When coupled with Energy Dispersive X-Ray Spectroscope (EDS), microscopic areas of the component can be compared for their elemental constituents. EDS identifies elements in a sample by Energy dispersive microscopy. The most obvious use is in determining the lead finish, plating layers and internal metallization. This technique can separate a tin-lead part from a RoHS compliant lead-free part or distinguish aluminum bond wires from gold. Both subtle differences, but each allows distinction of authentic from counterfeit parts.

4. Thermal Analysis

There is several thermal analysis techniques that can be employed on a small sampling of the component body. Thermal analysis measures some chemical or mechanical property as a function of temperature. a). Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC): measures chemical reactions as a function of temperature. Reactions such as melt point, glass transition temperature, crystallinity and heat capacity

b). Thermo gravimetric Analysis (TGA): measures weight loss as a function of temperature. This method is useful in that different polymers decompose (lose weight) at different temperatures.

c).Thermo mechanical Analysis (TMA): measures dimensional change as a function of temperature. Two significant properties which can be examined are the softening point and coefficient of thermal expansion x(CTE) of a polymer.

Challenges to control Counterfeit parts

1. Component obsolescence

Defense and aerospace products are particularly vulnerable to counterfeit components due to component obsolescence. As shown in Figure 14, Electronics parts, particularly microelectronic components, have life cycles far shorter than the defense / aerospace products that use them. When obsolete parts are not eliminated from product designs, independent distributors are often used to obtain components that are no longer in production. Industry reports show that the vast majority of counterfeit components have been acquired from independent distributors.

2. E-Waste

Electronic waste (e-waste) is any refuse consisting of discarded electronic devices and components, new or old, functioning or non-functioning. E-waste has been documented as the source of some counterfeit parts, especially electronic parts.

Industry studies reveal that many counterfeit electronic components originate overseas as parts salvaged from electronic waste. The export of electronic waste and scrap to developing nations is “feedstock” for counterfeiters of electronic components.

It is reported that in today’s supply chain, more than 80% of the counterfeit components are recycled and remarked. Only 25% of electronic waste has been properly recycled in 2009 in the United States. That percent is even lower for other countries


1. Reduce risk of Counterfeit parts entering into the supply chain


  • Procurement policies and selection of suppliers creates an opportunity to significantly reduce the risk of counterfeit parts from entering the supply chain.
  • Purchasing Processes shall assess potential sources of supply by including surveys, audits, review of product alerts [GIDEP, ERAI] and review of supplier quality data to determine past performance and that a list of approved suppliers shall be maintained. Ensure complete traceability of components
  • Assess and mitigate risks of procuring counterfeit parts from sources other than OCMs or authorized suppliers. This shall be accomplished and documented for every application when it is necessary to procure from other than OCMs or authorized suppliers.


2. Disposal of Electronic Waste

Proper disposition of known or suspected counterfeit parts prevents their reintroduction into the supply chain. If a part is returned to the supplier, whether an authorized distributor, OCM, or independent broker, it is subject to resale to meet market needs. Resale of returned product has the potential to reintroduce known or suspected counterfeit parts into the supply chain.


  • The Best Practice recommends mutilation of scrap parts and materials to prevent misrepresentation. Mutilation includes grinding, burning, removal of a major integral feature, permanent distortion of parts and materials.
  • ISO 14001certification for our environmental management system in order to adapt policies that mandate responsible electronics disposal.
  • WEEE [Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment] implementation


3. Reduce risk of component obsolescence


  • Establish a program to escrow intellectual property (e.g., product design, fabrication and testing information) for discontinued products with a 3rd party US escrow agent and permit US manufacturers (“trusted sources”) to access them in order to support continuing government requirements.
  • Establish a program like “Last buy” policy in order to consign or sell surplus material from original component manufacturer or franchised distribution traceability to a “trusted source” entity for downstream support of delivered equipment.



Reporting is essential to help authorities identify and prosecute counterfeiters. “Communication within and between industry segments is inconsistent.

All occurrences of counterfeit parts shall be reported, as appropriate, to internal organizations, customers, government reporting organizations(e.g., GIDEP), industry supported reporting programs(e.g., ERAI),and criminal investigative authorities. An online form on ERAI website is also available via which people can report anonymously.


In conclusion, it has become evident that success in the battle against counterfeiting cannot be guaranteed by only employing a rigid series of tests. Specifying a list of several screening tests on a purchasing document will only allow the counterfeiter to determine how to evade detection. Efforts to detect and prevent counterfeiting of electronic components must show the same creativity and determination the counterfeiters show. There are a variety of anti-counterfeiting techniques that are inuse, being developed and yet to be discovered. All will be needed to ensure only authentic components make their way into finished products. Few example of anti-counterfeit techniques are given below.


  • For high military applications: We can ask our supplier to provide DNA marking on authentic parts in order to prevent counterfeits parts in product.
  • By introducing anti counterfeit techniques in manufacturing of parts for example, recently, IEEE has released the revised IEEE 1149.1-2013 “Standard for Test Access Port and Boundary-Scan Architecture”, commonly known in the industry as “JTAG,” for “Joint Test Action Group.”


Each chip will have a JTAG accessible ECID [Electronic Chip ID] which tells speed of grading process, temperature grade or pass/fail status of the die. In this, during the grading process, data representing the highest qualified speed and temperature for the IC is stored in the 1149.1-2013 accessible non-volatile memory during grading process. Since information is securely embedded into one-time programmable memory on each chip, the possibility for counterfeiting by re-marking a package is virtually eliminated by matching the ECID value with the marking on the package.