Electronic – How to go about obfuscating the design of the circuits and embedded controls


I am working on a new power converter, which will likely see significant sales into China. Similar designs by my company have a history of being cloned by entities in that region. To mitigate this, I'm considering ways of obfuscating my design. Code protection on my microprocessor, outer-layer power planes, and blind vias all come to mind as possibilities. Are these reasonable means to my end? Are there others I should consider?

Best Answer

The easiest way is (if possible in your situation) is to get a custom IC made that contains some logic integral to your product. This alone will not assure that it will not be reverse-engineered (IC's are decapped and analyzed all the time, of course), but it's something that would work.

I would recommend the method suggested in another answer to seal the thing in epoxy (like how the commodore 64 and VIC-20 PSU's worked) but those were known for overheating and exploding and catching fire and a lot of other fun stuff. If you are using a switching voltage regulator or similar, this might still be okay. JUST NO LINEAR REGULATORS.

wash the markings off of IC's. I would like to say that this behavior ticks me off as a hobbyist, but I understand it from the other perspective as well. So do what you think is best.

If your product contains program code stored on a Mask ROM, EPROM, or similar, or if it contains basically any IC logic at all, see if you can get an ASIC chip made (I'm assuming you know this, but i will elaborate anyway for other readers: Application Specific Integrated Circuit). These are essentially custom manufactured IC's that for various reasons, cost or otherwise, are cheaper or better than standard equivalent chips. These could have different pinouts or voltage ratings or whatever. This makes the reverse engineers spend more time just trying to read the code out of the chip!

If you are designing a chip, go ahead and make all kinds of vias to nowhere and so on, since it doesn't cost a penny more to add more crap to the dye. You could even draw doodles on the inside if you wanted to go overboard with it (and if it isn't military grade equipment or something).

Nothing can totally stop dedicated reverse-engineers. But it may be possible to deter them until the product is no longer profitable.