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Silicon Fingerprints From eMemory

March 6, 2018

Author: Mike Demler

Software methods, passwords, and PINs are inadequate for securing computer systems; designers are therefore increasingly employing specialized security hardware. One of the most promising hardware techniques is a physical unclonable function (PUF) integrated directly into the silicon. All PUFs convert a semiconductor’s inherently random physical properties to a pool of random bits, which designers can use as an entropy source for encryption, key generation, and other cryptography tasks. Common entropy sources include an SRAM’s random state at power-up and the faster of two logically identical gate-delay paths. Although they should be reproducible every time a device powers up, they require error correction to eliminate flipped bits caused by noise, temperature, and voltage variations.

Taiwanese vendor eMemory, a developer of nonvolatile-memory (NVM) intellectual property (IP), is addressing those instabilities by offering its NeoPUF cores. Unlike other methods, the eMemory PUF produces a permanent 64Kb entropy source that’s immune to aging and environmental conditions. The company used its expertise as a manufacturer of one-time-programmable (OTP) and multi-time-programmable (MTP) nonvolatile memories to create NeoPUF Entropy IP, which enables chip manufacturers to integrate a PUF comprising up to 64K random nonvolatile bits. NeoPUF gives each die a unique silicon fingerprint that prevents counterfeiting, but it’s an essential root-of-trust element for cryptographic-key generation as well. It’s available now for TSMC and UMC 55nm nodes, but the company has also tested it on SMIC’s 55LL, UMC’s 28nm HPC+, and TSMC’s 7nm FinFET process.

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