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Address power, security issues with antifuse tech

Posted: 05 Nov 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:digital wallets? non-volatile memory? antifuse?

Programming the antifuse bit cell induces a randomly localized physical property change in a tiny region of the gate oxide. The bit determines an initial "0" or programmed "1" through the process of a current sensing, making the bit cell less vulnerable to low-cost, non-invasive attacksglitching and data remanenceas well as semi-invasive attacks such as UV attacks, fault injection, and voltage contrast. Furthermore, there is no deterministic way to locate and view the oxide breakdown, making the memory contents resistant to physical attacks such as de-processing and FIB examination. This is one reason antifuse memory technology is widely deployed for encryption key storage (figure 2).

Figure 2: Cross section, top, and FIB view of antifuse bit cell.

The value of the embedded design resides in the firmware. When incorporated on chip, it becomes resistant to physical hacking attacks. This code has distinct elements: (1) the main control program (locked in non-changeable one-time programmable NVM) for ultimate security; (2) a section of code in FTP (few time programmable) NVM that can be used for secure updates; and (3) for authentication, another secure area of storage hidden from passive or physical attacks.

The typical size of an embedded program is 32kB to 128kB. Applications in this category include Bluetooth, Zigbee, and Wi-Fi peripherals ranging from designs for wireless devices that monitor health and fitness to more sophisticated designs for home automation and security and NFC devices for digital wallet, wireless financial transactions, and electronic identificationdriver's licence, passport, fare collection, and others. Battery powered and easily connected to the web, these applications can be remotely accessed, for example, using secure and authenticated Smartphone programs.

Over two years ago, Kilopass pioneered logic antifuse technology and addressed code storage needs with the introduction of Gusto, a high-density embedded antifuse NVM for code storage. With growing adoption for code storage and emerging market trends to address the "Internet of Things," Kilopass recently released a second-generation code storage product called Gusto-2. It addresses low-power and small form factor requirements, as well as the security needs for tomorrow's applications from mobile wallet to low-energy Bluetooth devices. Initially, Gusto-2 is available in 65nm/55nm, followed by 40nm.

The power and area will take up a fraction of the SOC described in the table. The standby power will be significantly smaller than SRAM. The array area will be comparable to that of a similar capacity SRAM. The performance will delivery 400MB/s throughput. Initial storage capacities of 256kb, 512kb, and 1024kb will be available. And, it supports wide synchronous datapath CPU bus architectures to enable efficient execute-in-place access.

Remote monitoring and electronic financial transactions are applications driving a new generation of SoC designs that will be energy frugal, high performance, and sufficiently small enough to fit into space-constrained consumer devices. Such SoCs demand a memory sub-system to match their stringent power and security needs.

1. The World Market for Remote Monitoring Service C 2012 Edition IMS Research, Wellingborough, England
2. World Market for Wearable Technology C A Quantitative Market Assessment C 2012, IMS Research, Wellingborough, England
3. Mobile Financial ServicesA Technology and Market Analysis, Frost & Sullivan, Mountain View, California
4. From Black Hat: Hackers Demonstrate a Rising Vulnerability of Smartphones, New York Times July 26, 2012
5. Physical Attacks on Tamper Resistance: Progress and Lessons, Dr Sergei Skorobogatov, University of Cambridge, presentation before 2nd ARO Special Workshop on HW Assurance, Washington DC, 11-12 April 2011, excerpted from Sergei Skorobogatov: Physical Attacks and Tamper Resistance, Chapter 7 in Introduction to Hardware Security and Trust, Eds: Mohammad Tehranipoor and Cliff Wang, Springer, September 2011, ISBN 978-1-4419-8079-3

About the author
Andre Hassan is Field Marketing and Applications Director at Kilopass. He is an industry veteran with over 20 years of semiconductors and systems experience. Hassan brings a broad business experience in marketing, sales and operations, as well as depth in multiple engineering disciplines. Prior to Kilopass, he held senior management and engineering positions at Sigmatel, Monolithic System, S3, Sun Microsystems and Digital Equipment.

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