With device dimension downscaling, the oxide thickness reduction less than 3 nm in a metal–oxide–semiconductor structure has led to important changes in degradation mechanisms and failure modes. After the first breakdown event of ultrathin gate oxides, the leakage current presents a less dramatic and noisy continuous breakdown mode called progressive breakdown. In this article, we characterize the overall breakdown process of ultrathin gate oxides as a randomized logistic degradation process with a random onset time. The explicit result of the lifetime distribution is derived on the basis of this logistic degradation model. A numerical example is provided to calculate the lifetime distribution. The simulated lifetime data of our model fits lognormal distribution better than the Weibull distribution, which agrees with the experimental work in literature. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.