The United States yesterday imposed a new wave of sanctions on Russia’s technology industry. Experts said that how to prevent Western semiconductor chips from appearing in Russian weapons has become a major challenge for the industry, and clarifying the whereabouts of the chips is like tracing the flow of drugs.
Reuters reported that US Silicon Valley chip maker Marvell Technology Group Ltd. launched an investigation in 2016 after learning that one of its chips was inside a Russian unmanned spy plane, but found that the cost was less than $2 ( About NT$57) chips changed hands twice in Asia in 2009, and there was no follow-up after the final holding dealer closed down.
“We can’t go any further,” Chris Koopmans, chief operating officer of Meiman Electronic Technology, said in a recent interview.
A few years later, the chip appeared on a drone recovered in Lithuania.
Industry executives and experts say the Meiman Electronics case is just one of countless examples of chip makers’ inability to track the whereabouts of many of their low-end products. That could prevent the U.S. from imposing new sanctions aimed at curbing U.S. technology exports to Russia.
The high-end chips that make supercomputers are often sold directly to companies, but lower-cost chip products, such as those that might just control power, typically move between dealers several times before being loaded into devices.
Of the 578 billion chips the global chip industry is expected to ship this year, 64 percent are these low-cost chip commodities, said Dan Hutcheson, chip economist at industry research firm TechInsights.
According to data from World Semiconductor Trade Statistics Inc., although Russia accounted for less than 0.1% of global chip purchases before the international sanctions, the new wave of sanctions by Western countries is still important and highlights the importance of the chip industry. The challenge is to keep Western semiconductors from being used in Russian weapons.
Conflict Armament Research finds U.S. chips in Russian drones. “The drones we’ve seen before are unarmed,” said Damien Spleeters of the institute, adding that some of the drones on record, such as unmanned surveillance drones, are now used in Ukraine conflict, and became the armed version.
A report released by the Institute of Conflict Armaments last year pointed out that Intel, NXP, Analog Devices, Samsung Electronics, Texas Instruments were also found in Russian drones. ) and chips from STMicroelectronics.
Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment; NXP and Analog Devices said they complied with sanctions; Intel said it opposed the use of its own products to violate human rights; and Samsung said it did not manufacture chips for military use.
Experts believe that figuring out where the chips are going is like tracking down the flow of drugs.
“It’s like a drug trade, with brokers, middlemen, money laundering … and black market networks,” said James Lewis, director of the technology policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a US think tank.
Lewis said that the focus of sanctions against Russia now is not to track down the whereabouts of each chip, but to disrupt the supply chain as the intelligence community has been trying to do.
Finding solutions may require creative technical approaches.
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in a recent interview with Reuters, discussing high-end processors: “It can be a very good thing to know where the chips are going, for example, you can set the public key on each chip. and private key mechanism to authorize use.”
Meiman Electronic Technology said that more and more products of its products support fingerprint recognition and tracking functions, and continue to cooperate with industry partners and customers to improve in this field.
It may be difficult to add the above functions to a chip that costs less than $2 without raising the price. The solution may be in the manufacturing process, policy regulations, and determination.
“It’s ironic that we already have everything in place,” including technologies such as blockchain and device identification, but “only owes the wind,” said Michael Ford, director of Aegis Software, a software company that promotes supply chain security. The Russian invasion of Ukraine may be the catalyst for this.