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Insights - April 18, 2023

Tech Paper: Exploiting Short Application Lifetimes for Low Cost Hardware Encryption in Flexible Electronics

Nathaniel Bleiera, M. Husnain Mubarika, Suman Balaji, Francisco Rodriguez, Antony Sou, Scott White, and Rakesh Kumara

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Pragmatic Semiconductor

Download the full paper (PDF)

Abstract – Many emerging flexible electronics applications require hardware-based encryption, but it is unclear if practical hardware-based encryption is possible for flexible applications due to stringent power requirements of these applications and high area and power overheads of flexible technologies relative to silicon CMOS technologies. In this work, we observe that the lifetime of many flexible applications is so small that often one key suffices for the entire lifetime. This means that, instead of generating keys and round keys in hardware, we can generate the round keys offline, and instead store these round keys directly on the engine post fabrication in an on-chip programmable read-only memory. This eliminates the need for hardware for dynamic generation of round keys, which significantly reduces encryption overhead, while still allowing engines to have unique keys. This significant reduction in encryption overhead allows us to demonstrate the first practical flexible encryption engines. To prevent an adversary from reading out the stored round keys, we scramble the round keys before storing them in the ROM; camouflage cells are used to unscramble the keys before feeding them to logic. In spite of the unscrambling overhead, our encryption engines consume 27.4% lower power than the already heavily area and power optimized baselines, while being 21.9% smaller on average.


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