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Hardware secures standards

Posted: 01 Jul 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:physical hardware security? standards protection? IP protection?

Rawlings: No matter how elegant an encryption scheme may be, if it's insufficiently protected and if encryption keys can be reverse engineered or otherwise hacked, a standardand an industryis in jeopardy.

Who would have imagined that a 13-year-old kid could compromise an industry standard overnight?

But that's what happened in 1999 when Norwegian teen Jon Johansen and two hacker "colleagues" unlocked the secret of the Content Scramble System designed to protect DVDs from piracy.

No matter how elegant an encryption scheme may be, if it's insufficiently protected and if encryption keys can be reverse engineered or otherwise hacked, a standardand an industryis in jeopardy. There's a great need for effective PHY security for the sensitive information residing in consumer SoC architectures.

Hiding the keys
The first question to ask is: How physically secure is the technology in question? Most keys are hidden in the non-volatile memory (NVM) of DVDs, hard drives, EPROM, EEPROM and flash. Solid-state NVM is more secure than a hard drive, but it's still relatively easy to crack. The real challenge is to protect keys so well that they are invulnerable.

Analyzing three categories of embedded standard logic, CMOS NVM indicates that the CMOS antifuse implementation of one-time-programmable memory arrays offers the best protection. Whether you cross-section a chip, deprocess it, or observe it with a focused-ion beam, no visible physical or electrical evidence shows which cell has been programmed.

The second question is, how can the manufacturing process be secured? The method of choice is to protect keys by encryption before embedding them into the silicon. Only the target device would have the built-in decryption key required. This scheme protects keys or other sensitive information at all points along the manufacturing supply chain.

These technical capabilities underlie a new and powerful trend in IP protection: the use of a unique key for each target device. After all, it doesn't take very deep pockets or a great deal of determination to hit a few electronics stores, buy up product and start hacking.

It's only necessary to identify a small number of keys to be able to reverse engineer a broad digital media standard. If that happens, the scramble to develop another standard begins yet againand that's an outcome no one wants.

- Craig Rawlings
Director of Marketing
Kilopass Technology Inc.





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