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Some experts expect Earth to pass the threshold of 1 trillion internet-connected sensors within five years, so there is growing pressure to improve the security of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including products like smart home lightbulbs and thermostats.
Unsecured IoT devices were hijacked by hackers to mount the October 2016 distributed denial-of-service attack that crippled the internet on the US East Coast for most of a day.
Researchers from Rice University integrated circuit (IC), Texas, have recently unveiled a technology they say is 10 times more reliable than current methods of producing unclonable digital fingerprints for IoT devices.
The Rice physically unclonable function (PUF) technology uses a microchip’s physical imperfections to produce unique security keys that can be used to authenticate devices linked to the Internet of Things. According to science20.com, it generates two unique fingerprints for each PUF.
In the first mode, it creates one fingerprint, and in the other mode it gives a second fingerprint. Each one is a unique identifier, and dual keys are much better for reliability. On the off chance the device fails in the first mode, it can use the second key. The probability that it will fail in both modes is extremely small.
“The general concept for IoT is to connect physical objects to the internet in order to integrate the physical and cyber worlds,” said Kaiyuan Yang, one of the researchers. “In most consumer IoT today, the concept isn’t fully realized because many of the devices are powered and almost all use existing IC feature sets that were developed for the mobile market.” In contrast, the devices coming out of research labs like Yang’s are designed for IoT from the ground up.
Measuring just a few millimeters in size, the latest IoT prototypes can pack a processor, flash memory, wireless transmitter, antenna, one or more sensors, batteries and more into an area the size of a grain of rice, according to news.rice.edu.
The new technology has several of the same advantages as human fingerprints, as a means of authentication. This “zero-overhead” method uses the same PUF components to make both keys and does not require extra area and latency because of an innovative design feature that also allows their PUF to be about 15 times more energy efficient than previously published versions.