Stacking up card security

Credit and smartcards containing microchips could be made more secure with a German process that allows integrated circuits to be stacked on top of each other.

Smartcards fitted with microchips are increasingly used to store important personal information or monetary values for use in paying for services such as public transport.

As a result, the chips inside them are often attacked by hackers looking to gain access to the money or information they contain.

Now, semiconductor specialist Infineon Technologies has developed a means to stack devices in three dimensions in a process it calls Vertical System Integration (VSI).

‘This allows the most critical of the chips used in a smartcard to be placed inside the 3D stack, protecting it from mechanical attack, electrical probing and a range of other physical attacks,’ said Wolfgang Gruber, director of development for security and chip card integrated circuits at Infineon.

Infineon has been working with Austrian microchip equipment maker Datacon on the £8.7m project, as part of a European Eureka R&D programme.

Between them, the two companies have developed two versions of stacking devices. The first, a technology called ‘Face to Face’ (F2F), in which chips are attached by a soldering process, will be ready for production in 2004.

A demonstration chip card with a huge amount of memory capable of fulfilling requirements for future multi-application operating systems has been built using the technique.

Work continues on the second version – a multi-layer technology based on F2F that will allow for wiring to be passed through one chip to the next chip, thus making stacks of three or more layers possible and further increasing the chip’s flexibility and security. This is due to be ready for production in 2007.

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