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Cybersecurity is often associated with protecting data, but hackers are increasingly targeting physical devices. A technology under development makes digital chips more resilient to security attacks.

The University of Arkansas researchers project focuses on protecting integrated circuit (IC) chips, which are critical components in modern electronics. The chips can be found in a wide variety of devices, including computers, vehicles and even refrigerators. As devices are increasingly interconnected via the “Internet of Things,” designers are intensifying efforts to protect the hardware from outside threats.

Jia Di, professor of computer science and computer engineering from the University of Arkansas, has received from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)  a $600,000 grant to pursue the technology. 

Threats to hardware can be categorized into three broad areas — compromising confidentiality, integrity or availability. “For attacks targeting confidentiality, sensitive information stored on the electronic device may be leaked out to attackers; for those targeting integrity, the device may produce wrong data or make wrong decisions; for those targeting availability, the device may malfunction or stop working,” he said.

According to DARPA, “as Internet-of-Things devices rapidly increase in popularity and deployment, economic attackers and nation-states alike are shifting their attention to the vulnerabilities of digital integrated circuit chips. Threats to IC chips are well known, and despite various measures designed to mitigate them, hardware developers have largely been slow to implement security solutions due to limited expertise, high cost and complexity, and lack of security-oriented design tools integrated with supporting semiconductor intellectual property.”

The funding is a sub-award from Northrop Grumman, which was awarded the project from DARPA, according to uark.edu. The project includes collaborators from Northrop Grumman, the University of Arkansas, IBM and the University of Florida.