Turning Diamonds into . . . er, Identifiers?

I just heard the coolest security pitch – maybe ever. It took an uncomfortably long time for me to absorb the basic gist of what DUST Identity was trying to explain, despite my own academic training in both physics and computer science. But once the thing clicked in my mind, I could barely wipe the grin off my face. I hope you will read on, as I try to summarize for you this unique and fascinating concept.

It all starts with diamonds. They are the hardest material known to man, but they can be crushed (watch this awesome video). Now, I hadn’t known this, but a bag of industrial synthetic diamond dust is reasonably priced (a point I wish I’d known before getting married). And it looks to me, at least from this Alibaba showroom page, that you can buy a Kilo of the stuff for roughly the price of a sushi dinner in Tribeca.

DUST Identity engineers the diamond dust with a quantum defect and scatters it into a polymer-based substance. The tiny particles – which Ophir Gaathon, CEO of DUST Identity, refers to as nano-diamonds – fall into a random, three-dimensional orientation, which becomes rigid in the thermal insulator. In essence, the process creates a snowflake of diamond dust in a polymer. And this snowflake can serve as a physically robust identifier.

By optically scanning this diamond fingerprint and digitizing the result, DUST Identity creates an identification system for tagging physical objects. “What we have created is an unclonable identity layer for any physical object,” explained Gaathon. “Using our technology and cloud- based infrastructure, our customers can create an interface to identify objects and determine their provenance.”

So, wow – that is a lot to process. As a hacker wanna-be, I couldn’t resist lobbing one potential hack after another at the scheme: Heat up the polymer, smack it with a hammer, and so on and so forth. Gaathon calmly reminded me that while DUST Identity tags can be damaged, just like any physical object, the tampering will be easily detected. “The real power,” he explained, “is that the tags cannot be cloned.”

I then asked about the optical scanning, which uses a portable device about the size of my electric razor. Surely this scan process, I protested, would make the DUST Identity scheme unscalable. But again, Gaathon explained that while some use-cases might not lend to use of a hand-held scanner, most other cases were perfectly consistent. He also mentioned some on-going work to streamline and integrate into common manufacturing processes.

So, I am enthusiastic, but let me admit my biases: Gaathon was an undergraduate at NYU Tandon, where I currently serve as a research professor. His co-founder Dr. Jonathan Hodges has his BS in Applied Physics from Columbia, where I attended business school. And Eric Sharret, head of the defense business at DUST Identity, is an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Stevens Institute of Technology, where I received my PhD degree. I could go on and on.

But despite my admitted biases and academic connections to this fine company, I really do think this is an amazing advance – one that could change the nature of supply chain security for systems with third-party developed components. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Airbus seem to get the idea: They provide support to the company, as do venture capital firms such as Kleiner Perkins and New Science Ventures.

Even if you don’t see obvious application to your environment, I think you should call Ophir Gaathon for a briefing. You can also visit them in person, as the company’s headquarters is in Framingham, Massachusetts, just a 30 minute drive down I-90 from Boston. I am usually pretty fidgety after 30 minutes of the typical cyber security pitch to our TAG Cyber team, but after 60 minutes of DUST Identity, I wanted more. I think you will, too.

Give them a call and let us all know what you think.