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FPGA Sandwich Secures Boot Up on Embedded Systems
2/11/2014

Microsemi's FPGA-based secure boot solution for embedded systems.
Microsemi's FPGA-based secure boot solution for embedded systems.

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DrFPGA
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Re: Secured FPGA
DrFPGA   2/25/2014 4:27:02 PM
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Yep- SRAM FPGAs can be faster in terms of clock rate. FPGAs are also good at solving problems in parallel however, so often a faster clock isn't required for hitting high-performance goals. 

DrFPGA
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Re: Potentially false security
DrFPGA   2/25/2014 4:24:00 PM
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Good point that security requires several levels to be really protected. Seems like the key element is to have a known secure starting point that can extend to other applications and security processes. A single chip solution that has all the security needed for that starting point is probably the best way to begin...

ChristophZ
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Re: Secured FPGA
ChristophZ   2/14/2014 2:11:19 AM
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You are right with the (use case dependent) advantages of flash based FPGAs. Our company is using flash based FPGAs because of the simple use, fast time between power-up and ready and there cost (industrial power-converter stuff).


But to be fair, they have also a disadvantage: As it is also true for any other digital IC, the production process needed to build embedded flash cells results in slower digital circuits than a process without flash. A and X are using 28 nm processing nodes at the moment, L is using 65 nm node with flash currently. In short (comparing same development year):

- A microprocessor without flash can be clocked higher than one with flash

- A SRAM FPGA is faster than a flash-cell FPGA

But not everyone needs a "4 GHz AVR" :-)

ChristophZ
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Re: Potentially false security
ChristophZ   2/14/2014 1:59:08 AM
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Yes, you nailed it. I trust microsemi that this reference design itself is ok. But as you say security needs to be considered from end to end, else you didn't won something.

LarryM99
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Potentially false security
LarryM99   2/13/2014 1:59:44 PM
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This barrier is useful for a hack that replaces the original code, but what about a real-time hack that gains access to the data on it? Or, in the case of the insulin pump, gains access to a control interface to change the parameters within an otherwise-acceptable range? Securing embedded systems of this type has to be done at a number of levels. My fear is that designers will see this as a way of "solving" the security problem without doing a complete analysis.

DrFPGA
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Re: Secured FPGA
DrFPGA   2/13/2014 10:27:20 AM
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Flash-based devices can be less expensive at the system level since they don't need an additional external configuration device. Also the potential cost of your design being copied, stolen or reverse engineered (if you use an SRAM-based device) can be 'hidden' until it happens to you.

Lower power is another big advantage of Flash-based FPGAs since leakage current (static power) is so low compared to SRAM-based FPGAs. Some devices (like those from Microsemi) even have a 'low power' mode where the device can be put into a 'sleep mode' (similar feature to those in an MCU) without losing configuration state (since it's stored in non-volatile flash cells woven into the FPGA fabric.) Something you can't do with SRAM-based device.

Sanjib.A
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Re: Secured FPGA
Sanjib.A   2/12/2014 9:57:50 PM
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@DrFPGA: Thanks for the insight. Are these FLASH based FPGAs costlier than the traditional SRAM cell based FPGAs? Obviously the manufacuter would need to recover the money which is invested in developing these security features, but is the delta price premium significant? I have heard about another advantage of the FLASH based FPGAs as these have much lower static current compared to the SRAM cell based counterpart.

DrFPGA
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Re: Secured FPGA
DrFPGA   2/12/2014 2:15:40 PM
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You are right on about the OTP trade-offs. Flash-based FPGAs with security features (like fabric-embedded flash configuration cells, encrypted programming bit streams with DPA resistance)  can be just as secure as OTP devices in the vast majority of applications. With flash-based devices you can also support secure upgrades which will be very critical for new applications with changing standards and requirements (like IoT will be).

Sanjib.A
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Secured FPGA
Sanjib.A   2/12/2014 2:00:04 PM
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What about going back in the time  when "One Time  Programmable" (OTP) devices were used popularly during release? :)... In-field programability feature won't be availble then, might not be secured for IoT application where field upgradability might be an important feature but the OTP devices would have beenvery secured.  

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