MIT researchers have hardwired public-key encryption into a new chip for IoT devices. It uses 1/400 of the power of software execution, one tenth of the memory, and executes 500 times faster.
From data breaches to weaponised devices, the Internet of Things (IoT) has been plagued with security issues. In part, this is down to hardware manufacturers implementing security as an afterthought, along with a lack of standardisation.
But it’s also true that building a low-power network of connected devices will remain challenging while encryption is so energy intensive.
Sensitive data transactions are usually protected by public-key cryptography. This type of encryption allows computers to transfer information securely without needing to establish a secret encryption key.
However, the software responsible for executing these protocols is both memory and energy intensive. The battery life trade-off required for embedded sensors and smart devices to run has long been a burden on development.
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Energy-efficient encryption for the IoT
But that could be about to change. Researchers from MIT have developed a chip that’s hardwired to execute public-key encryption.
It uses a tiny fraction of power (1/400) compared with software execution of the same protocols, and just ten percent of the memory. Better still, MIT’s new chip executes the encryption process 500 times faster.
The new chip relies on a technique called elliptic-curve encryption. The process uses mathematical functions to secure transactions. Previously, chips have been hardwired to handle specific elliptic curves or families of curves. MIT’s latest chip has been developed to work with any elliptic curve.
“Cryptographers are coming up with curves with different properties, and they use different primes,” said Utsav Banerjee, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, and lead author on the paper.
“There is a lot of debate regarding which curve is secure and which curve to use, and there are multiple governments with different standards coming up that talk about different curves. With this chip, we can support all of them, and hopefully, when new curves come along in the future, we can support them as well.”
The researchers will present a paper on the new chip at this week’s International Solid-State Circuits Conference.
Internet of Business says
This is merely the latest innovation from MIT to focus on reducing the energy consumption of intelligent systems, while increasing their power and speed. Our separate report today looks at its work with neural networks. Energy use, cost, and speed are the critical elements in developing sustainable IoT devices, and services that can really deliver on their promise – securely.