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Hack-Proof Rfid Chips


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A standard RFID chip.

Researchers have designed an RFID chip that prevents side-channel attacks.

Credit: MIT News.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Texas Instruments have developed a virtually hack-proof radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip, which they presented this week at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco.

MIT graduate student Chiraag Juvekar says the chip is designed to foil side-channel attacks, which analyze patterns of memory access or fluctuations in power consumption when a device is conducting a cryptographic operation, in order to extract its cryptographic key.

The RFID chip's effectiveness in preventing such attacks is courtesy of two design advances: an on-chip power supply whose link to the chip circuitry would be virtually impossible to sever, and an array of "nonvolatile" memory cells that can store whatever data the chip is working on when it starts to lose power.

The device utilizes ferroelectric crystals and a bank of 3.3-volt capacitors as an on-chip energy source, while 571 1.5-volt ferroelectric cells are embedded into its circuitry. When the chip's power source, an external scanner, is removed, the chip harnesses the 3.3-volt capacitors and completes as many operations as possible, then stores the data it is working on in the 1.5-volt cells. When power is reintroduced, the chip recharges the capacitors so that if another interruption occurs, it will have sufficient power to store data. It then resumes its previous computation and if that computation was an update of the secret key, it will finish the update before responding to a query from the scanner, thwarting power-glitch attacks.

From MIT News
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