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The University of Cincinnati Develops an Algorithm for Securing Electronics Hardware

February 09, 2020 by Misha Khan

Every day engineers are improving security technologies. However, hackers always devise ways to break security barriers.

Addressing the various security issues in devices, a University of Cincinnati research team has developed an algorithm for providing an extra layer of protection, security, and safety for future connected devices.

The main aim of the University of Cincinnati’s (UC) research was to provide, at the hardware level, extra layers of security and protection against hacker attacks.

Accordingly, the UC researchers developed an algorithm that serves as a mode of defence for hardware against data-stealing attacks. Hackers tend to detect electromagnetic power and variations of power present in electronic devices under the proposed attacks, and these detected variations are then used for stealing the encrypted data.


University of Cincinnati professor Ranga Vemuri

In a University of Cincinnati’s laboratory, Professor Ranga Vemuri discusses research with a graduate student in the presence of a laptop and other research equipment. Image Credit: Corrie Stookey/CEAS Marketing via UC News.


Securing Electronic Devices Using an Algorithm

As the University of Wyoming’s Ph.D graduate Mike Borowczak explains:

“Regardless of how secure you can make your software, if your hardware leaks information, you can basically bypass all those security mechanisms”.

In regards to the said security issues, lead researchers Borowczak and Professor Ranga Vemuri analysed the designs of various devices with the aim of securing their respective hardware.

They restricted the designs and coded the devices in such a way that they are not susceptible to data leakage. To attain this objective, the team’s algorithm was developed to provide security for hardware, and so the researchers took the design specification and re-evaluated it at the algorithmic level.


Early Experimentation of the Algorithm

The design choice was made with the knowledge that, no matter how the algorithm is implemented, it will draw the same amount of power in every cycle. The experimental algorithm, therefore, saw that the amount of consumed power was equalised across all cycles.

Given this dynamic, even if hackers were to gain access to the relevant power measurements, they won’t be able to do anything. This algorithm is therefore set to further secure various electronic devices by fabricating them with a more automated restructured design. The research is fundamentally automating the whole process, instead of requiring each hardware component to be manually secured.

On top of this, devices that are going to be either protected or created with the algorithm’s implementation will use only 5% more power when compared to an insecure device.


A laptop with a small padlock sitting on it.

The algorithm developed by the UC researchers is designed to defend against common side-channel attacks on electronics hardware. 


How Will The Algorithm Improve Security for Electronics?

Modern electronics are becoming more advanced every day. There was a time when devices used to rely on passwords, but now, the security of devices has reached a new frontier.

Passwords have been taken over by face recognition software, biometrics, and so on. While all these security measures protect software, this is just one part of any electronic device. Hardware is also prone to security attacks, of course.

In fact, if the data or information is leaked out from the hardware side, all the security mechanisms are bypassed. All existing devices, such as cable boxes, remote car keys, and credit card chips, etc, are subjected to hardware attacks. This is due to the presence of vulnerable parameters in their respective designs.


Design Choices That Cause Vulnerabilities 

Engineers stress and act on the importance of lightweight, size and minimal power optimisation in devices. Nevertheless, such devices are vulnerable to attacks because the process of encoding and decoding in them is drawing more power and is emitting more electromagnetic radiation.

Such radiation eventually creates a unique pattern and this is one of the things that hackers look for when stealing device users’ information. Again, UC’s developed algorithm is addressing hardware security issues, as opposed to just focusing on software.

With this algorithm, therefore, devices will become more restructured and more secure. This may well facilitate new technologies with an enhanced, automated design. Ultimately, therefore, the University of Cincinnati has developed an algorithm that is set to provide future electronic devices with an extra layer of safety, protection, and security. 

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