The view from within the electronics industry – individual comment pieces from people working in the technology sector.

Comment: FPGAs must be protected from being cloned

We have historically experienced that while every technological advance brings its own fresh opportunities; it also creates an additional series of technological challenges for system designers.

PaulPickle

They must develop new products while addressing issues, such as power consumption, reliability, and especially security.

In our hyperconnected world, it is essential that all new designs be protected from being cloned, reverse engineered, or tampered with in order to protect embedded intellectual property, system data, and the system itself.

The greatest advances in device security will come from making base-level security easy to use and adopt by system architects.

As FPGAs with embedded processors becoming the core of the new systems, the best approach is to provide SoC FPGAs with embedded security that works inherently, and allows the system architect to plan its security architecture at the core level rather than an afterthought.

It is essential that all FPGAs be protected from being cloned, reverse engineered, or tampered with. Integrated security protects the FPGA from design theft and/or alteration.

One of the issues with SRAM-based FPGAs is the need to configure the device every time it is turned on.

Normally, the configuration is loaded from an external memory device, exposing the design bit stream over the link between the two devices. However, by storing the configuration information in non-volatile memory on chip, the bit stream is never exposed and that makes it impossible to capture the information.

This inherent security stops a design from being copied and any proprietary IP from being stolen and redistributed to a competitor. It also prevents tampering with the design for malicious effect. Current generations of FPGAs only provide design security. Advanced security features go beyond to address data security and the protection of the application data that the FPGA is processing.

Examples of data security features are:

hardware protection from differential power analysis attacks

non-deterministic random bit (number) generator

hardware firewalls to protect the integrated ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller core

 

Paul Pickle, president and chief operating officer, Microsemi

 


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