[Cryptography] open hardware as a defence against state-level attacks

Christian Gagneraud chgans at gna.org
Tue Jan 13 20:26:27 PST 2015

On 14/01/15 14:56, Andy Isaacson wrote:
> On Mon, Jan 12, 2015 at 03:04:23PM -0500, grarpamp wrote:
>> Yet let me open another related line of thinking...
>> Where are the open fabs for makers instead of submitting open
>> designs to closed fabs? It's 2015, crowdfunding, open source,
>> non-profits, and public monitoring are done.

Chip fabs are not cheap, you need billions of dollars/euros to start one 
A more reasonable approach would be to buy an old one, but you would 
still need lot of millions. And this is without taking running costs 
into account. Running a fabrication plant is quite different from 
running a fablab or a hacker space....

Having micro-electonics background and being an open-source proponent, i 
have been thinking about this kind of problems for a while.

Before going for a semiconductor fabrication plant, maybe it would be 
better to start with something more simple like resistors, capacitors, 
diodes, transistors, ... (Look at the GNU project, they bootstrapped 
their "complete free Unix-like system" with  gcc, make, libc and the 
likes, they didn't start with gimp or gnome)

10/20 years ago, you would make your PCBs yourself (Printed Circuit 
Board [2]), the technology started with single layer PCB, and then came 
the 2 layers (double-sided) PCBs, it was a bit more difficult, but it 
was still doable. By 2015 the standard is 4, 6, 8+ layers, and I've 
never heard of DIY method to make such 4+ layers PCBs. Single and double 
layers PCBs are still useful, and i'm sure there's plenty of 
fablabs/hackespaces with the right gears to help you make them. But if 
your goal is to make a phone, a PC, ... you need way more advanced 

I see Open-Hardware as a myth and an utopia (I'm OK with this I am an 
utopian myself):
- A myth because so far people have created open electronics design with 
proprietary physical electronics and electro-mechnical components. I 
could go for hours on this one, just get one of this board in your hand 
(a Pi, beagleborad, arduino, ...) and look at it, every single physical 
part is proprietary, every single one! They usually used proprietary EDA 
software, with proprietary 3rd party libraries, they certainly sent 
their open designs to the PCB manufacturer using a proprietary format. 
And then they load it with open-source software and claim the thing to 
be open-hardware... (don't get me wrong, hat off to these awesome guys!)
- An utopia because we are light-years away from being able to produce 
100.0% open-hardware. As I said, a 100.0% open-hardware piece of 
equipment means that you have access to the technology of all parts 
being used to produce the final product (the equivalent of the source 
code of all open-source projects (and standards) needed to create a 
Linux distro for example). but as of today, nothing is open-technology, 
even a simple plastic connector or a ceramic capacitor are protected by 
patents all over the place! The manufacturers of these parts usually 
kindly provides you with models of their components (electronic symbol, 
3D model, PCB footprint, Ibis model, spice models, ...), nice, isn't it? 
Well, no, their license are not even compatible with any open-source 
ones, which mean you cannot use them to make an open-design, you have to 
start from scratch, almost each time!

To go towards a world where 100.0% open-hardware (electronics) is 
thinkable we would need:
- open technology to fabricate multi-layers PCBs ([3] looks promising)
- open technology to fabricate simple electronic and mechanical 
components (think resistors, capacitors, transistors, connectors, LEDs, ...)
- open technology to fabricate complex chips (CPU, memories, FPGAs, ...)
- open SW technology to create these electronics designs (using SW 
called EDA, CAD, ...)[4]
- And above all we need open standards! Fuck IEEE, IEC, IPC, etc... (As 
an exercise to the reader: try to imagine how the internet and the web 
would be if W3C and IETF were producing only closed and pricey standards)

Some interesting projects in case you don't know them:

PS: I know you started with open-source micro-electronics projects like 
a CPU chip, and i replied more on the above level (make a motherboard 
with the said CPU), but I think my point still stands: We first need 
open basic physical blocks (components) with which we will then create 
open complex parts.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_semiconductor_fabrication_plants
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printed_circuit_board
[3] Sorry can't find the link, but it's about printed carbon tracks on a 
piece of paper instead of using chemical process to create copper tracks 
on flame retardant material...
[4] If you're interested in these, just compare FreeCAD against 
SolidWorks and KiCAD against Altium, both FreeCAD and KiCAD are lacking 
far, far, far behind:
  FreeCAD (open source): http://www.freecadweb.org/
  SolidWorks (proprietary): http://www.solidworks.com/
  KiCAD (open source): http://www.kicad-pcb.org
  Altium (proprietary): http://www.altium.com/
And I didn't even talk about monsters like Cadence () to make your own 
IC (chip), there's virtually nothing to compare to in the free world!

> The LowRISC project aims to build a complete open SoC based on the
> RISC-V architecture and get chips fabbed.
> http://www.lowrisc.org/
> -andy

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