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A Safer Internet of Things

Computer scientists at UC San Diego have developed a tool that allows hardware designers and system builders to test hardware security—a first for the field. One of the tool’s potential uses is described in the May-June issue of IEEE Micro magazine.

(L-R) Jason Oberg, Ryan Kastner and Jonathan Valamehr
(L-R) Jason Oberg, Ryan Kastner and Jonathan Valamehr

“The stakes in hardware security are high,” said Ryan Kastner, a professor of computer science at the Jacobs School of Engineering. There is a big push to create the so-called Internet of Things, where all devices are connected and communicate with one another. As a result, embedded systems—small computer systems built around microcontrollers—are becoming more common. But they remain vulnerable to security breaches. Some examples of devices that may be hackable include medical devices, cars, phones and smart grid technology.

The tool, based on the team’s research on Gate-level Information Flow Tracking, or GLIFT, tags critical pieces in hardware security systems and tracks them. The tool leverages this technology to detect security-specific properties within a hardware system. For example, the tool can make sure that a cryptographic key does not leak outside a chip’s cryptographic core.

Kastner, postdoctoral researcher Jonathan Valamehr and Ph.D. candidate Jason Oberg started a company named Tortuga Logic to commercialize this technology. The company is currently working with two of the top semiconductor companies in the world.

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