In this paper, the conduction properties of dielectric ultra-thin layers are studied using atomic force microscopy. Especially, the conductive-atomic force microscope allows to measure the leakage current at the nanoscale and to study the degradation mechanisms locally. Nonetheless, the dielectric layer seems to be damaged by a technique's specific phenomenon: hillocks appear when a positive tip bias is applied on different dielectrics. In this paper, the formation of these hillocks is studied. Contrary to what is observed during the dielectric breakdown, the conductivity is reduced after hillocks formation which occurs after the dielectric breakdown. Moreover, we have observed the formation of cavities in the silicon substrate linked to the formation of hillocks, which is not compatible with a swelling process (as dielectric breakdown induced epitaxy). We propose that these results may be explained by an electro-thermal effect due to the large dissipated energy, maybe combined with the oxidation of the substrate. Finally, the interdependence of measurements is demonstrated during serial acquisition.

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