Low-energy Security Chip Architecture


    In News

    • Recently, two Indian researchers working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have built a low-energy security chip.


    • It is designed to prevent side-channel attacks (SCAs) on IoT (Internet of Things) devices. 


    Image Courtesy: Infosec 

    Side Channel Attacks (SCAs)

    • About: 
      • SCAs take advantage of security exploits where information can be gathered from the indirect effects of the functioning of the system hardware rather than attacking a programme or software directly.
    • Usage:
      • Traditionally, SCAs have been used in cryptography
      • If some data is being processed and there is a secret key used to encrypt or decrypt it, SCAs could be used in some cases to recover this key. 
      • It can be applied to any data that you want to keep secret. 
      • For example, it can be used on smartwatches to extract ECG and heart rate signals of the user.
    • Aim of such attacks:
      • These attacks aim to extract sensitive information like: 
        • cryptographic keys, 
        • proprietary machine learning models and parameters 
    • Process: 
      • It is done by measuring things like timing information, power consumption and electromagnetic leaks of a system.
    • Logic: 
      • SCA uses other auxiliary information to check on the original problem.
      • SCA uses the information from the execution of an act to determine what is happening rather than looking at the act itself.
    • What attacks use side channel analysis?
      • There are a growing number of known side-channel attack vectors. Some of the most common attacks are:
        • Timing attack: 
          • Analyzes the time a system spends executing cryptographic algorithms. 
        • Electromagnetic (EM) attack: 
          • Measures and performs a signal analysis on the electromagnetic radiation emitted from a device.
        • Simple power analysis (SPA): 
          • Directly observes the power and electromagnetic (EM) variations of a cryptographic system during operations.
        • Differential power analysis (DPA): 
          • Obtains and analyzes detailed statistical measurements across multiple operations.
        • Template attack: 
          • Recovers cryptographic keys by exploiting an identical “template” device and comparing side-channel data.

    Low Energy Chip Architecture

    • Characteristics: 
      • The chip is smaller than the size of a thumbnail.
      • It uses much less power than traditional security measures against SCAs. 
      • It has been built to be easily incorporated into smartwatches, tablets, and a variety of other devices.
    • Usage:
      • It can be used in any sensor node which connects user data.
    • Method:
      • The chip uses near-threshold computing, a computing method where the data to be worked on is first split into separate, unique and random components. 
      • The chip then conducts operations separately on each component in a random order before aggregating the results for a final result.
    • Scope of improvement:
      • Even though SCAs are difficult to execute on most modern systems, some developments  are making SCAs more of a reality: 
        • The increasing sophistication of machine learning algorithms, 
        • Greater computing power of devices and 
        • Measuring devices with increasing sensitivities

    Improvements by New Research: 

    • About: 
      • These researchers from MIT found a way to optimise this process to reduce some of the computational overheads. 
    • Claim: 
      • The researchers claim they have reduced the required computing overheads by three orders of magnitude with their chip architecture.
    • Problem: 
      • Power intensive: 
        • The implementation of this chip architecture in a system would require at least a five-fold increase in energy consumption 1.6 times the silicon area of an insecure implementation. 
      • Limited protection: 
        • The architecture only protects against energy consumption-based SCAs and doesn’t defend against electromagnetic SCAs.
      • Storage: 
        • Requiring more system memory to store information.
    • Advantage:
      • More secure: 
        • Due to this method, the information leak from the device through power-consumption measurements are random and would reveal nothing but gibberish in an SCA. 
      • User friendly:
        • It can be used in any sensor node which connects user data. 

    Way Ahead

    • The Research and Development in this sector should not reduce its pace until a solution is reached which caters to all the existing problems.

    What is Internet Of Things (IoT)? 

    • It is a concept that describes the idea of everyday physical objects being connected to the internet. In the Internet of Things, the connected devices should be able to identify themselves to other devices. 
    • It has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), microservices and the internet. 
    • Over 30 billion ‘smart’ devices will be connected by 2020. That’s equivalent to every single person on this planet with four connected devices and IoT will help in boosting global economies, improving public utilities, and increasing efficiencies.
    • It can be utilised in daily life, agri-sector, healthcare, transportation, implementation of policies and monitoring etc. 

    IoT in India:

    • The Indian government has outlined a plan to leverage IoT as part of the Digital India mission and the National Digital Communications Policy has come out with a machine-to-machine (M2M) roadmap, with an aim to put regulators, industry agencies that develop standards, users and manufacturers on the same page.
    • According to Nasscom, the Indian IoT market is expected to reach $15 billion by 2020 and constitute 5 % of the global market.
    • The demand for Satcom is further accentuated by the exploding data demand due to IoT, 5G, Industry 4.0, Digital India, smart cities, etc.

    Source: IE