Can FPGAs Offer Robust IoT Security?

By Enterprise Security Magazine | Tuesday, June 04, 2019

FREMONT, CA: When it comes to connected systems such as the internet of things (IoT) and industrial internet of things (IIoT), a secure root-of-trust is a vital factor in ensuring optimum functionality. Unsecured systems often result in design theft, overbuilding, product cloning, device tampering, and device hijacking. Compromised firmware leads to user data vulnerability, disrupting the routine processes. The optimum solution to secure the system firmware is through field-programmable gate array (FPGA)-enabled hardware platforms with parallel functioning capabilities.

The importance of data analytics and machine learning has made information invaluable, not only for organizations but also for hackers. With the rise in cybercrime, it has become inevitable for service providers to ensure the security of their products to protect customer information such as personal, health, financial, and operational data.

To assist customers in securing their connected systems against a variety of threats, several semiconductor manufacturers are investing in FPGA chips. They are designed to assist original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in simplifying the integration of robust hardware-based security for their connected devices. FPGAs can detect, shield, and recover itself and relevant components from unauthorized firmware access at any phase of the system lifecycle.

The FPGAs possess extensive lookup tables (LUTs) and I/O pins and are also compatible with hot socketing, default pull-down, programmable slew rate, and input hysteresis. The flash-based FPGAs can start up instantly without the need for external configuration storage, and the chips possess inbuilt voltage regulators requiring minimum power supply. The chips also comprise of user flash memory and embedded block RAM. The dual flash-memory blocks take care of device configuration, enabling efficient programming support.

The embedded security blocks in the FPGAs contain pre-verified hardware reinforcing for cryptographic functions such as ECC, AES, SHA, and PKC. The FPGA chips can also accommodate the NIST’s Platform Firmware Resilience Specification. The security support feature of the FPGA chips is designed to consider third-party programming, as well as to address supply-chain security issues. 

The FPGAs eliminate the need for external security chips to secure the devices. The security features are based on the embedded secure configuration engine that delivers root-of-trust, ensuring the incorporation of trusted FPGA code.

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