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Physically unclonable function developed for IoT security

The development comes from Rice University, where scientists have applied integrated circuit design to construct new approach for creating secure keys and identifiers on Internet of Things technologies.

Security is a major concern for the Internet of Things. Some predictions suggest that we will see over one trillion internet-connected sensors within the next five years. This is according to Vernon Turner, senior vice president of enterprise systems at IDC, speaking at the IDC Directions conference, and reported by Forbes.

The ‘physically unclonable function uses a series of units, each of which has a unique code or fingerprint. These are, in essence, sophisticated encryption keys. These are unique, bonded and unclonable.

In terms of how the new approach to Internet of Things security will work, lead researcher Kaiyuan Yang states: “Basically each ‘physically unclonable function unit can work in two modes.”

By this, he explains: “In the first mode, it creates one fingerprint, and in the other mode it gives a second fingerprint. Each one is a unique identifier, and dual keys are much better for reliability. On the off chance the device fails in the first mode, it can use the second key. The probability that it will fail in both modes is extremely small.”

In other words, the ‘physically unclonable function work very much like human fingerprints, which are indistinguishable from each other.

It is hoped that the technology will enable chipmakers to generate secret keys for encryption, at a low cost. This could become a standard feature on next-generation computer chips for connected devices, such as smart home thermostats, security cameras and lightbulbs.

The new technology – the physically unclonable function – has been presented at the 2019 International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), which was held in San Francisco during February.

In other IoT security news, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a special-purpose chip hardwired to implement elliptic-curve cryptography. The device is also energy efficient, capable of reducing power consumption by 99.75 percent as well as increasing speed 500-fold. The use of the curve as a function for encryption is important; cryptographers are developing different curves with different properties in order to build cybersecurity protocols.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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