20 Nov 2017

Unclonable security ICs defend designs from cyber attack

Cyber attacks are now commonly reported in the news, and there is an expectation that cyber security will be a huge issue for the Internet of Things.

To enable security to be simple and affordable, Maxim has introduced its DS28E38. The DS28E38 DeepCover is a secure authenticator from Maxim Integrated products.

Currently there are many examples appearing about wireless controlled toys, white goods and many more items being open to attack as people are not worried about them being accessed as they are not worried about them, not realising they provide a way in to larger networks. Web cameras, thermostats that might be on a network, and they can provide a really easy way in to the larger network. Even though a hacker controlling a thermostat or web cam might not be an issue as such, the greater concern is the access it provides into the network.

With many more items being connected, this provides a huge opportunity for hackers. Security can be very costly but few realise how costly it can be if it is not implemented. Whilst simple devices provide a real opportunity, many other items are could provide rich pickings for hackers - even pacemakers and insulin dispensers could provide a way for hackers to ransom the users for example. As the Internet of Things becomes a reality this will be a rapidly growing area of concern and for investment.

In meeting this demand, the DS28E38 features Maxim’s ChipDNA physical unclonable function (PUF) technology, which makes it immune to invasive attacks because the ChipDNA-based root cryptographic key does not exist in memory or any other static state. Instead, Maxim’s PUF circuit relies on the naturally occurring random analogue characteristics of fundamental MOSFET semiconductor devices to produce cryptographic keys.

When needed, the circuit generates the per-device unique key, which instantly disappears when it is no longer in use. If the DS28E38 were to come under an invasive physical attack, the attack would cause the sensitive electrical characteristics of the circuit to change, further impeding the breach. In addition to the protection benefits, ChipDNA technology simplifies or eliminates the need for complicated secure IC key management as the key can be used directly for cryptographic operations.

The ChipDNA circuit has also demonstrated high reliability over process, voltage, temperature, and aging. Additionally, to address cryptographic quality, PUF output evaluation to the NIST-based randomness test suite was successful with pass results. Using the DS28E38, engineers can, from the start, build into their designs a defence against hacking. The IC is low-cost and simple to integrate into a customer’s design via Maxim’s single-contact 1-Wire® interface combined with a low-complexity fixed-function command set including cryptographic operations.

Not only are consumables open to attack, but so too are many other commercial items. Demonstrations of healthcare items have also been seen. These could have a huge value for hackers as items like wireless controlled insulin dispensers and pacemakers have been shown to be open. Hackers could then hold many organisations to ransom if they were able to enter and control these and many other devices

The advantage of the hardware solution is that it is hard to hack. Being based on silicon it is not open to being cloned, accessed and altered. With hackers becoming ever more capable, security must be much greater, especially with the increasing number of targets that will provide entry points. Accordingly the Maxim DS28E38 solution provides a highly secure option for those wanting to protect their products against attack.

By Ian Poole

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