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NYU Abu Dhabi develops ‘unhackable’ computer chip

‘Logic-locked’ security is implemented at the hardware level rather than software or system levels, researchers say

Image Credit: GN Archive
The New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) campus
Gulf News

Dubai; Researchers at New York University Abu Dhabi’s (NYUAD) Design for Excellence (Dfx) lab have developed a new ‘logic-locked’ security chip to protect devices from the surge in cyberattacks.

Secured by a secret key, it permits only authorised users can utilise the device and it is also immune to reverse-engineering.

Ozgur Sinanoglu, NYUAD associate dean of Engineering for Academic Affairs, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and head of the Dfx, said in a statement on Sunday that security features, traditionally, are implemented at a software or system level.

“For the first time, we have security implemented at the lowest possible level — the hardware level. This is quite important because if the hardware is compromised, there is no software or system security fix,” he said.

NYUAD’s Dfx research team has designed two different chips over the past year, utilising commercial and in-house developed software tools to help them build a baseline chip as well as their logic-locked chip.

These are microcontroller chips with mainly an ARM microprocessor unit and they allow one to load a software program onto their memory, which they may then execute, allowing users to design a computational system or computer around them.

The team at NYUAD are now pursuing a platform that will enable the research community to validate the security of their new solution through extensive red-team blue-team testing.

“The chip can be unlocked only by loading the secret binary key on its memory. Without it, the chip will not work. Only when the secret key has been loaded will the microprocessor unit inside execute the program loaded on its memory,” Sinanoglu said.

He added that while the industry is slowly developing solutions, they are mostly early solutions that are not as of yet so secure. Academia is quite ahead in the game, with various research groups working on this area.

“Our solution is the first one that is probably secure, based on mathematical security definitions and security proofs, as well as implemented on a real chip. Our goal is to make all electronics truly trustworthy. We are now in a position where we can take any chip design and transform it into one that is secure at the hardware level, which means we can work with design companies to help them produce protected computer chips,” Sinanoglu said.

The paper containing the extensive research conducted by NYUAD’s Dfx team into logic-locking technology will be presented in November at this year’s edition of the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (ACM CCS 2017), the leading cybersecurity conference in the world.

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