“Diamond-based security” low-tech foil for high-tech counterfeiters

Fortune reports on a new company that aims to keep supply chains secure in the era of 3D printing by using unique patterns of diamond dust scattered on manufactured parts to act as a unique ID – a combination serial number and watermark only visible under a microscope:

Startup Dust Identity has raised $10 million in a series A funding round, led by Kleiner Perkins and including strategic investments from the VC arms of both Lockheed Martin and Airbus. The money will help the Framingham, Mass.-based company refine and commercialize its novel technique of using minuscule diamond fragments to attach unique, durable tracking codes to physical objects, like high-tech components.

According to Chris Moran, executive director of Lockheed Martin Ventures, advances in 3-D printing represent a possible future threat to manufacturers of high-tech goods. “You can scan a part, and kind of duplicate it,” he says. But those counterfeit parts wouldn’t be up to the performance standards of the real thing, presenting frightening prospects for, among other things, air safety. Parallel threats exist in many other realms, such as the possibility of injecting malicious software into compromised computer components.

Dust Identity’s solution is strikingly innovative, yet straightforward. Its process embeds tiny diamond fragments in a polymer that’s sprayed on a component. As the polymer dries, those diamond fragments are frozen in place, producing a pattern of scattered light that’s irreproducible, because it’s so random and complex—and at least as unique as a fingerprint.

“You can generate 10 to the power of 230 (10^230) serial numbers using only 10 diamonds,” says Gaathon. “But usually we’re using closer to 400.” For comparison, there are about 10^82 atoms in the known universe, so there’s little risk of duplicating tracking patterns.

Once it’s laid down, the diamond pattern is then scanned and entered into a database for tracking as it moves across the world, towards its final fate in a finished good.

Surprisingly, spraying diamonds across a circuit board is “incredibly low-cost,” according to Kleiner’s Ilya Fushman. “We’re using synthetic diamonds that are inexpensive compared to natural diamonds,” says [Dust Identity CEO Ophir] Gaathon. “And we’re using diamonds from the abrasive industry, so we’re recycling.” Even the cheapest RFID tags cost around 15 cents each, while Dust Identity claims that, at scale, a single application of its tag can cost as little as one one-thousandth of a cent.

[via The Hustle]