MADISON, Wis. — The need to protect connected systems — cars, mobile phones, smart grids, connected factories and any other IoT devices — by using security chips with crypto keys is growing rapidly, while not clearly answering a critical question: How do we know if the security chips designed into such connected systems aren’t leaking key information?
The Athena Group, Inc. (Gainesville, Florida) hopes to answer the $64 billion question on Monday (April 20) by rolling out a portfolio of security IP cores with side-channel attack countermeasures, based on advanced differential power analysis (DPA) countermeasure approaches pioneered by the Rambus Cryptography Research Division.
It’s widely known that cyber-attackers can exploit an extra source –from timing information, power consumption or electromagnetic leaks of chips — to break a cryptosystem.
DPA — which involves statistically analyzing power consumption measurements from a cryptosystem — is believed to be one of the biggest challenges for designers of countermeasures. “DPA attacks are extremely difficult to detect,” according to Pat Rugg, vice president, sales & marketing at Athena. Athena, with 25 years of experience in security, is a provider of security, cryptography, anti-tamper, and signal processing IP cores.
“You need a lot of resources to build, implement, and more importantly, to test such countermeasures,” he added. “You need to be as big, and as resourceful as Qualcomm is, to pull this off, for example.”
DPA-resistant IP cores for ASICs and FPGAs
Athena is seeking to level the playing field by making available “a full set of DPA-resistant off-the-shelf and custom IP core solutions — for the first time — for ASIC targets as well as FPGA devices from Microsemi, Altera, and Xilinx,” according to the company.
Athena has been supplying cryptography IP cores to “customers ranging from defense contractors to top 25 communication systems OEMs and many of the world’s largest chip vendors,” said Rugg. “Our IP covers from 0.8 micron to 14nm Intel process, because we’ve been in this business for a long time.
Now, Athena is adding DPA countermeasures across the company’s entire security IP cores, the TeraFire product line. Included in TeraFire DPA-resistant IP cores, immediately available now, are dedicated AES, SHA, and RNG cryptography cores as well as the embedded F5200B security microprocessor with full support for government-recommended Suite B - public key (PK), elliptic curve cryptography (ECC), AES, SHA, and RNG.
Athena Cryptography IP Portfolio with SCA/DPA Countermeasures
Athena claims that these “silicon-proven” IP cores are validated to resist SCA/DPA attacks up to 1 billion traces and they can be optimized for size, speed, and security level based on customer requirements.
Athena licensed the DPA countermeasure technology from Cryptography Research, Inc. (CRI), one week before CRI was acquired by Rambus in 2011, according to Monica Murphy, president and CEO at Athena. CRI was known for licensing patents for protecting cryptographic devices against power analysis attacks.
While smartcard chips are one of the first fields where DPA resistance was added, Murphy explained that the market today is moving to apply DPA countermeasures to a broader range of hardware cryptographic devices. “We are the first IP provider to offer DPA-resistance to a wider portfolio of security IP cores,” she said.
It’s important to note that although Rambus Cryptography Research Division’s patent, originally developed by CRI, depicts a method to monitor energy consumption and use that for advanced differential power analysis countermeasure, the patent itself never explains how to build a DPA-resistance chip, let alone how to test it (if the countermeasure works), according to Rugg.
That’s where Athena sees its opportunity. “We think there will be an explosion” of market demands for side-channel attack resistant security chips, he added.
Next page: Why countermeasures are necessary