Seeking the hidden threats inside electronics
Ethicronics is building tech to find counterfeit and compromised components
We’ve got a fascinating startup in the hardware security space for you today.
They’re working to solve an important problem around the security of electronics, so scroll down to read all about Ethicronics. As ever, paying subscribers get the full story.
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Ethicronics wants to find the hidden threats inside electronics
Fake and compromised electronics are a serious problem. An OECD report from 2019 pegged the UK alone as facing £2.5 billion worth of counterfeit electrical items entering the country per year.
The problem could come down to something as small as a dirt-cheap capacitor designed to be placed on a printed circuit board.
A company might save money buying a huge quantity of counterfeit components. But if those components don’t perform as expected, the results could be defective–or even extremely dangerous–products.
Meanwhile, there is growing concern about compromised hardware. Just look at how Huawei equipment has been ordered to be pulled out of 5G networks because of concern it could be used for surveillance by China.
If hackers compromise hardware at the circuit board level, they have far more fundamental access to the data that flows through that board than if they operate at a software level.
You definitely don’t want compromised chips to get into a nuclear power station’s control system, for example.
Ethicronics is a startup that believes it has a solution to both of these problems.
“It works to ensure that any electronics hardware in your hands corresponds to its design files, at scale and at a lower cost, from system level down to transistor level,” says founder Dr Franck Courbon.
He claims the software can provide 100% assurance of the integrity of the product. However, he’s reluctant to publicly share more details about how it actually works for the time being.
That’s perhaps understandable to technology in a highly sensitive and high-stakes market. However, it’s notable that the solution was compelling enough to interest the UK government National Cyber Security Centre’s startup programme, which Ethicronics has now completed.
The story so far
Courbon comes to the startup world after a long academic career in France and the UK, including three masters degrees and a PhD. His work included research into detecting malicious modifications to hardware.
He ended up in Cambridge where he got financial sponsorship to conduct more research into physical attacks and supply chain security. The outcome of this work ended up becoming the foundations of Ethicronics, when Courbon got approval to follow a commercialisation path in 2022.
While the software itself is still in development, Courbon says the startup’s team has grown to seven people in seven different countries, most of whom are working part-time for now. Their main priority for the coming year is to validate the tech while cultivating strategic partnerships.
“We need something that works in the field within the next six months… to go step-by-step to validate everything, making sure that on the tech side it works down to the transistor level.”
Once it’s ready for market, Ethicronics is exploring a model that would see it offering quarterly usage licences, with charges for each board and chip that is verified through the software. Courbon says these per-item charges can be very low, as billions or trillions of items may need to be checked by some customers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the aerospace (fake or compromised parts in an aeroplane or spacecraft are a terrifying prospect and in some cases already a reality) and defence markets are where the startup has its eyes first. Beyond that, finance and consumer electronics are markets Courbon sees as having potential.
Consumer electronics is attractive, he says, because it’s a large-scale market that it would be easier to integrate with than some others.
Go deeper on Ethicronics
Read more on their funding, investment plans, vision, competition, and challenges: