Cyber defense for nanoelectronics

(Nanowerk News) Today’s societies critically depend on electronic systems. Past spectacular cyber-attacks have clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of existing systems and the need to prevent such attacks in the future. The majority of available cyber-defenses concentrate on protecting the software part of electronic systems or their communication interfaces.
However, manufacturing technology advancements and the increasing hardware complexity provide a large number of challenges so that the focus of attackers has shifted towards the hardware level. We saw already evidence for powerful and successful hardware-level attacks, including Rowhammer, Meltdown and Spectre.
These attacks happened on products built using state-of-the-art microelectronic technology, however, we are facing completely new security challenges due to the ongoing transition to radically new types of nanoelectronic devices, such as memristors, spintronics, or carbon nanotubes and graphene based transistors.
The use of such emerging nanotechnologies is inevitable to address the key challenges related to energy efficiency, computing power and performance. Therefore, the entire industry, are switching to emerging nano-electronics alongside scaled CMOS technologies in heterogeneous integrated systems.
These technologies come with new properties and also facilitate the development of radically different computer architectures. The new technologies and architectures provide new opportunities for achieving security targets, but also raise questions about their vulnerabilities to new types of hardware attacks.
The new Priority Program at the University of Stuttgart "Nano Security: From Nano-Electronics to Secure Systems" was approved in March 2019 and the first projects will start in 2020. It's main objective is to understand the implications of emerging nano-electronics to system security, and specifically:
  • To assess possible security threats and vulnerabilities stemming from novel nano-electronics. Such weaknesses can be due to fundamental properties of nano-electronic devices, or result from designers neglecting security. One goal of the SPP is to take security into account during the complete development and product life cycle. A central challenge here is to establish the connection between hardware blocks vulnerable to attacks and the consequences of the attacks at the system level.
  • To develop innovative approaches for system security based on nano-electronics. Security requires hardware trust anchors, which are hard to design with current technologies. For example, all current solutions to the problem of secure storage of cryptographic keys have known weaknesses. This SPP will push the use of new technology features for secure trust anchors, e.g., building new types of secure memories or PUFs.
  • The SPP Nano Security will enforce strong cooperation between scientists working on lower and higher levels of abstraction to develop innovative solutions for omnipresent hardware trust anchors in future computing systems, including the Internet of Things. This SPP will give security designers a new set of methods and solutions for winning the race between attackers and defenders for the next decade.
    Source: University of Stuttgart
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