[aprssig] ***SPAM*** Oh No!! Fake Prolific 2303 USB<-->Serial Chip Fiasco Now Spreading To FTDI

Stephen H. Smith wa8lmf2 at aol.com
Fri Mar 27 23:01:33 CDT 2015

For several years, Prolific Technology has been attempting to fight Chinese 
counterfeit copies of their USB<-->serial chip by playing games with recent 
versions of the driver they provide for this device.   The current driver 
somehow determines that a device has a fake 2303 chip and refuses to install or 
run.   This breaks numerous devices (USB-serial dongles, USB-interface GPS 
units, radio programming cables, etc.) that contain "fake" chips.

Windows Update automatically updates  the Prolific driver when it finds it 
present in a Windows installation.  This has the effect of causing devices that 
initially worked with an older version Prolific driver, provided with the 
device, to stop working after Windows Update "helpfully" updates to the "DRMed" 
driver.   More details on the Prolific mess here on my website:
.   <http://wa8lmf.net/ham/USB-Serial-Dongles.htm>

For the last year or so, the conventional wisdom was that to avoid this 
headache, insist on USB<-->serial dongles based on the FTDI chip instead.  Now 
it appears that Scotland-based FTDI is facing the same problems (Chinese fakes) 
and is taking even more drastic action.  Their latest drivers are actually 
reflashing the internal EEPROM of fake FTDI chips to render them nonfunctional 
even if you reinstall an older non-DRM driver.  This has the effect of 
permanently "bricking" the device the chip is embedded in.

I somehow missed this story on Slashdot.org when it first ran last October, but 
a passing reference and a link to it appeared today (27 Mar 15):


"FTDI Reportedly Bricking Devices Using Competitors' Chips.

It seems that chipmaker FTDI has started an outright war on cloners of their 
popular USB bridge chips. At first the clones stopped working with the official 
drivers, and now they are being intentionally bricked, rendering the device 
useless. The problem? These chips are incredibly popular and used in many 
consumer products. Are you sure yours doesn't contain a counterfeit one before 
you plug it in? Hackaday says, "It’s very hard to tell the difference between 
the real and fake versions by looking at the package, but a look at the silicon 
reveals vast differences. The new driver for the FT232 exploits these 
differences, reprogramming it so it won’t work with existing drivers. It’s a 
bold strategy to cut down on silicon counterfeiters on the part of FTDI. A 
reasonable company would go after the manufacturers of fake chips, not the 
consumers who are most likely unaware they have a fake chip."

In a series of Twitter posts, FTDI has admitted to doing this. "

Stephen H. Smith    wa8lmf (at) aol.com
Skype:        WA8LMF
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