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Researchers developing Vanishing or self destructing electronics to avoid being leaked or reverse engineered

In April 2001, a US Navy surveillance plane was intercepted by two Chinese F-8 fighter planes during a routine patrol flight over the Chinese South Sea. The US plane was forced to make an emergency landing in China, after what officials described as a “minor” midair collision, occurred with one of the Chinese planes. The US crew had between 12 and 20 minutes in the
air to destroy all classified material on board before making the emergency landing. In the final moments before the plane landed, the crew tried to destroy the hardware with hammers and axes.


Securing confidential data in emergency situations is essential. The damage that can result when confidential  information falls into adversary hands is devastating. In general defence storage systems security levels are classified into data protection, data elimination  and media destruction.  Researchers are now designing a new class of electronics, called Transient and self destructing electronics enabled by new materials, that are capable of self-destruction on command or in response to environmental conditions, such as temperature.


DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program is investigating the development of special electronics that are rugged and functional as conventional electronics, but also capable of self-destruction on command or in response to environmental conditions, such as temperature. This shall prevent classified technology being leaked, reverse engineered or be used to develop countermeasures, if it fell in the hands of the enemy.

Graphene-enhanced technology created electronics that vaporize in response to radio waves

Researchers from Cornell University and Honeywell Aerospace have designed a graphene-enhanced transient electronics technology in which the microchip self-destructs by vaporizing – an action that can be remotely triggered – without releasing harmful byproducts. In addition to transient electronics, the technology might find application in environmental sensors that can be remotely vaporized once they’re no longer needed.


A silicon-dioxide microchip is attached to a polycarbonate shell. Microscopic cavities within the shell contain rubidium and sodium bifluoride. When triggered remotely by using radio waves, these chemicals thermally react and decompose the microchip. The radio waves open graphene-on-nitride valves that keep the chemicals sealed in the cavities, allowing the rubidium to oxidize, release heat and vaporize the polycarbonate shell. The sodium bifluoride releases hydrofluoric acid to etch away the electronics.


“Our team has also demonstrated the use of the technology as a scalable micro-power momentum and electricity source, which can deliver high peak powers for robotic actuation,” said the researchers.



Vanishing electronics based on tempered Glass

Gregory Whiting, a materials scientist and manager of the Novel Electronics Group have developed a new computer chip made of tempered glass, which when remotely triggered could self destruct itself in seconds and keep the sensitive data secure. The new method utilizes silicon computer wafers attached to a piece of tempered glass, which when heated in one spot shatters into small pieces.

Tempered glass is about four times stronger than “ordinary,” or annealed, glass, and unlike annealed glass, which can shatter into jagged shards when broken, tempered glass fractures into small, relatively harmless pieces.

Normally tempered glass is made by heating in oven at a temperature of more than 600 degrees Celsius and then undergoing a high-pressure cooling procedure called “quenching.” Due to this process, the exterior of the glass contracts, putting the exterior into compression while the interior that is warm maintains extraordinary tensile stress. The heat-tempering process only works with pieces of glass that are at least 0.03 inches thick, as glass is a poor temperature conductor. Also, it requires thinner materials to produce tiny particles.

Researchers used an alternate method called ion exchange. The researchers began with a thin piece of glass that was rich in atoms of sodium, or sodium ions, with one electron stripped off. The glass was then put into a hot bath of potassium nitrate. Potassium ions then try to exchange places with the sodium ions. However, this produces enormous tension in the glass, as the heftier potassium ions must squeeze into place within the silicon matrix, Whiting said.

The new method provides the option to either attaching silicon wafers directly to the glass, or fabricating the two together.

The team to induce chip suicide triggers the chip with a tiny heating element, which causes a thermal shock that creates a fracture that spreads throughout the glass. The recent chip demonstration relied upon the laser triggering a photo diode, which switched on the self-destruct circuit. Future versions of the chip could use anything from mechanical switches, or Wi-Fi to radio signals as triggers.


PARC Successfully Demonstrates Electronics that Disintegrates on Demand

PARC performed several dozen live demonstrations of the transient technology, The self-destructing chip was on display last month at DARPA’s “Wait, What? Technology Forum” in St. Louis, where attendees used a standard laser pointer to provide a remote logical signal that triggered a current pulse in a resistive heater which provided the energy needed to initiate a defect and disintegrate PARC’s electronic device within a couple of seconds. While an optical signal was used in this demonstration, PARC’s technology can also be triggered via a radio frequency signal as well as physical or chemical triggers.

Previous research by the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology has also considered using a tiny resistor heater that could cause critical circuits to self-destruct to prevent reverse-engineering. Researchers at Iowa State University also have reported progress in working with “transient materials” used for electronics, passports or credit cards that could degrade on command.

Parc, a part of Xerox, has extended its multimillion dollar contract with DARPA to develop its Disintegration Upon Stress Release Trigger (DUST) technology under DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources program.



Vanishing Electronics that Self Destructs in response to heat exposure

Researchers led by aerospace engineering professor Scott R. White and John A. Rogers, have developed a new type of “transient” electronic device that self-destructs in response to heat exposure instead of being exposed to water.

The technology involves first printing magnesium circuits on thin, flexible materials. The devices are coated with wax which contains Microscopic droplets of a weak acid. When exposed to heat, the wax melts and releases the acid, which completely dissolves the device. The researchers were also remotely able to trigger self-destruction by embedding a radio-frequency receiver and inductive heating coil in device. In response to a radio signal, the coil heats up and melt the wax, leading to the destruction of the device.

The team is also exploring the potential for other triggers, such as ultraviolet light and mechanical stress. The team’s work was supported by the National Science Foundation and DARPA.

DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program

The main distinction between transient materials and conventional degradable materials is that unlike degradable materials, transient materials maintain their full characteristics and functionality until transiency is prescribed; and the dissolution rate is very often designed to be very fast. Military would benefit more with faster response to the trigger rather than waiting to slowly dissolve in the open environment or in the human body.

Sophisticated electronics are increasingly pervasive on the battlefield for a range of applications that include remote sensing and communications. However, it is nearly impossible to track and recover every device, resulting in their unintended accumulation in the environment, potential recovery and use by unauthorized individuals, and compromise of intellectual property and technological advantage.

The Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program seeks electronic systems capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner. These transient electronics should have performance comparable to commercial-off-the-shelf electronics, but with limited device persistence that can be programmed, adjusted in real-time, triggered, and/or be sensitive to the deployment environment.

VAPR aims to enable transient electronics as a deployable technology. To achieve this goal, researchers are pursuing new concepts and capabilities to enable the materials, components, integration and manufacturing that could together realize this new class of electronics.

Transient electronics may enable a number of revolutionary military capabilities including degradable environmental sensors or medical devices for diagnosis, treatment and health monitoring in the field.

Large-area distributed networks of sensors that can decompose in the natural environment (eco-resorbable) could provide critical data for a specified duration, but no longer. Alternatively, devices that resorb into the body may aid in continuous health monitoring and treatment in the field.

Mercury Systems Unveils Defense Industry’s Smallest Secure SSD with Self-Destruct Capability in BGA package

Mercury Systems, Inc. announced the beginning of customer engagements for its new TRRUST-Stor® secure solid state drive (SSD) optimized for embedded computing applications in forward-deployed defense environments. Available in host-accessible capacities up to 256 GB, the new device features triple-level cell (TLC) NAND flash memory operating in single-level cell (SLC) mode combined with advanced BuiltSECURE™ algorithms in a ruggedized, ultra-compact 22mm x 32mm ball-grid array (BGA) package.


The device’s ARMOR™ 6 processor seamlessly integrates certified cryptographic algorithms, encryption key purge, device sanitization and non-thermal self-destruct capabilities into a single device. This low-profile SSD device is ideal for applications requiring on-board high-speed, secure storage in SWaP-constrained environments such as aircraft, unmanned systems and mobile ground applications including secure laptops and tablets.


The increase in critical sensor data collected by modern defense computing systems burdens embedded board design engineers to integrate on-board data storage solutions for maximum space savings without sacrificing storage capacity, performance, speed or security. A multifaceted approach to the implementation of security is required to address all possible operating scenarios. State-of-the-art encryption technologies free of key bypass mechanisms must be paired with advanced key management techniques and device sanitization protocols. Successfully achieving this objective ensures that access to high-value data is restricted only to those individuals with proper authorization.


While TLC flash technology is ideal for high-capacity data storage in a smaller footprint than multi-level cell (MLC) and SLC technologies, its reliability and performance in military operating environments has been disputed until today. Mercury has eliminated these threats by custom-engineering a new variant of its ARMOR processor specifically for this new commercial memory technology enabling it to operate in SLC mode for high reliability and long-term endurance while sustaining high-speed read/write operations. Additionally, Mercury has successfully embedded a suite of customizable self-destruct protocols that are initiated and executed without the use chemical reactions or heat. These protocols safely render the device inoperable in the event of device capture and reverse-engineering attempts by adversaries.


“Our new ultra-compact SSD device blends the most advanced commercial flash memory technology, our core expertise in advanced packaging and our new BuiltSECURE algorithms to deliver assured data integrity in harsh operating environments,” said Iain Mackie, Vice President and General Manager of Mercury’s Microelectronics Secure Solutions group. “It is our duty to deliver the best commercial technologies to the defense community without compromising security, performance or data integrity.  We are proud to leverage Mercury’s next-generation business model to commercialize this innovation for our military forces around the world.”






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