Fake components hit military suppliers

Counterfeiters have tried to sell fake electronic components to UK military equipment suppliers, a problem that is increasing, according to electronics quango UKEA
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor on

Counterfeiters have attempted to introduce fake components into military grade equipment, potentially putting that gear at risk.

The UK Electronics Alliance (UKEA) told ZDNet UK on Monday that in the past year military equipment manufacturers had detected an unspecified number of counterfeit electronic components coming into their supply chain.

"Military grade counterfeit components have been found by military equipment manufacturers," said UKEA alliance executive Roger Rogowski. "We are not aware of any components finding their way into military systems, but we are aware of instances where components have been received by equipment manufacturers and identified as counterfeit."

Rogowski declined to say which manufacturers had detected the fake components, but did say the problem was increasing both for the military and industry.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) told ZDNet UK on Monday it was not aware of any attempts to sell equipment containing fake components to the military. The MoD said that the responsibility for the quality of its technology rested with its suppliers.

"MoD's suppliers are responsible for the control of their sub suppliers and [the] quality of product delivered," said an MoD spokesperson. "They will audit those sub-suppliers as thought necessary based on risk."

The spokesperson added that MoD normally only uses suppliers who have certified quality management systems in place, and if a risk at a particular supplier were to be highlighted, then the MoD has the ability to audit that supplier using its quality assurance team, the Defence Quality Assurance Field Force.

Organisations are not fully aware of the potential problems caused by counterfeit electronic components, according to government organisation the Intellectual Property Office.

The organisation said in an annual report on Thursday that while the problems of fake electronic equipment were well known, the risks of counterfeit components in genuine equipment were less well recognised.

"The use of counterfeit components may impact on reliability — resulting in increased system down time or even system failure," said the IP Crime Annual Report 2009-2010. "Where counterfeit components are used in safety critical applications, such as public transport or healthcare systems, this can be a considerable risk to health and safety."

The IPO said that various components, especially obsolete ones, were popular with counterfeiters.

Counterfeit components such as erasable programmable logic device the Altera EP610 DM-35, which have both commercial and military applications, may be found in a wide variety of hardware, said IPO.

"There were commercial and military versions of this [Altera] part, so they could be used in almost anything from household appliances to fighter planes," said the report.

Counterfeit components can be produced from scratch; or salvaged from junked equipment, factory rejects or burnt-out components, and then re-marked. Components from inappropriate hardware can also be re-marked; for example, games console components can be re-marked and sold on as industrial or military grade kit, said the report.

The FBI warned of counterfeit Cisco products affecting US military and infrastructure security in 2008.

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