Stronger security for smart devices
Researchers demonstrate two security methods that efficiently protect analog-to-digital converters from powerful attacks that aim to steal user data
Written by Adam Zewe, MIT News Office
Researchers are pushing to outpace hackers and develop stronger protections that keep data safe from malicious agents who would steal information by eavesdropping on smart devices.
Much of the work done to prevent these “side-channel attacks” has focused on the vulnerability of digital processors. For instance, hackers can measure the electric current drawn by a smartwatch’s processor and use it to reconstruct secret data being processed, such as a password.
Recently, MIT researchers published a paper in the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits, which demonstrated that analog-to-digital converters in smart devices, which encode real-world signals from sensors into digital values that can be processed computationally, are susceptible to power side-channel attacks. A hacker could measure the power supply current of the analog-to-digital converter and use machine learning to accurately reconstruct output data.
Now, in two new papers, researchers show that analog-to-digital converters are also susceptible to a stealthier form of side-channel attack, and describe techniques that effectively block both attacks. Their techniques are more efficient and less expensive than other security methods.
Minimizing power consumption and cost are critical factors for portable smart devices, says Hae-Seung Lee, the Advanced Television and Signal Processing Professor of Electrical Engineering, director of the Microsystems Technology Laboratories, and senior author of the most recent research paper.
“Side-channel attacks are always a cat and mouse game. If we hadn’t done the work, the hackers most likely would have come up with these methods and used them to attack analog-to-digital converters, so we are preempting the action of the hackers,” he adds.
Joining Lee on the paper is first-author and graduate student Ruicong Chen; graduate student Hanrui Wang; and Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The research will be presented at the IEEE Symposium on VLSI Circuits. A related paper, written by first-author and graduate student Maitreyi Ashok; Edlyn Levine, formerly with MITRE and now chief science officer at America’s Frontier Fund; and senior author Chandrakasan, was recently presented at the IEEE Custom Integrated Circuits Conference.
The authors of the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits paper are lead-author Taehoon Jeong, who was a graduate student at MIT and is now with Apple, Inc, Chandrakasan, and Lee, a senior author.
A noninvasive attack
To conduct a power side-channel attack, a malicious agent typically solders a resistor onto the device’s circuit board to measure its power usage. But an electromagnetic side-channel attack is noninvasive; the agent uses an electromagnetic probe that can monitor electric current without touching the device.
The researchers showed that an electromagnetic side-channel attack was just as effective as a power side-channel attack on an analog-to-digital converter, even when the probe was held 1 centimeter away from the chip. A hacker could use this attack to steal private data from an implantable medical device.
To thwart these attacks, the researchers added randomization to the ADC conversion process.
An ADC takes an unknown input voltage, perhaps from a biometric sensor, and converts it to a digital value. To do this, a common type of ADC sets a threshold in the center of its voltage range and uses a circuit called a comparator to compare the input voltage to the threshold. If the comparator decides the input is larger, the ADC sets a new threshold in the top half of the range and runs the comparator again.
This process continues until the unknown range becomes so small it can assign a digital value to the input.
The ADC typically sets thresholds using capacitors, which draw different amounts of electric current when they switch. An attacker can monitor the power supplies and use them to train a machine-learning model that reconstructs output data with surprising accuracy.
Randomizing the process
To prevent this, Ashok and her collaborators used a random number generator to decide when each capacitor switches. This randomization makes it much harder for an attacker to correlate power supplies with output data. Their technique also keeps the comparator running constantly, which prevents an attacker from determining when each stage of the conversion began and ended.
“The idea is to split up what would normally be a binary search process into smaller chunks where it becomes difficult to know what stage in the binary search process you are on. By introducing some randomness into the conversion, the leakage is independent from what the individual operations are,” Ashok explains.
Chen and his collaborators developed an ADC that randomizes the starting point of the conversion process. This method uses two comparators and an algorithm to randomly set two thresholds instead of one, so there are millions of possible ways an ADC could arrive at a digital output. This makes it nearly impossible for an attacker to correlate a power supply waveform to a digital output.
Using two thresholds and splitting the chip into two halves not only allows random starting points, but it also removes any speed penalty, which enables it to run almost as fast as a standard ADC.
Both methods are resilient against power and electromagnetic side-channel attacks without hurting the performance of the ADC. Ashok’s method only required 14 percent more chip area, while Chen’s did not require any additional area. Both use much less power than other secure ADCs.
Each technique is tailored for a specific use. The scheme Ashok developed is simple, which makes it well-suited for low-power applications like smart devices. Chen’s technique, which is more complex, is designed for high-speed applications like video processing.
“For the past half-century of ADC research, people have focused on improving the power, performance, or area of the circuit. We’ve shown that it is also extremely important to consider the security side of ADCs. We have new dimensions for designers to consider,” Chen says.
Now that they have shown the effectiveness of these methods, the researchers plan to use them to develop detection-driven chips. In these chips, protection would only turn on when the chip detects a side-channel attack, which could boost energy efficiency while maintaining security.
“To create secure low-power edge-devices, it is necessary to optimize every single component of the system. The notion of secure analog and mixed-signal circuits is a relatively new and important research direction. Our research shows it is possible to essentially with high accuracy infer the data at the output of analog-to-digital converters by leveraging advances in machine learning and fine-grained measurement techniques,” Chandrakasan says. “Through optimized circuit methods such optimizing switching schemes, it is possible to create power and EM side-channel secure circuits, enabling fully secure systems. This is going to be critical in applications such as health care, where data privacy is critical.”
The research is funded, in part, by the MITRE Innovation Program, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the MathWorks Engineering Fellowship, the Defense Advanced Research Protection Agency, the Office of Naval Research, Analog Devices, and the MIT Center for Integrated Circuits and Systems. The prototype chips were fabricated through the TSMC University Shuttle Program.
Innovative Ideas and Breakthroughs from NMIMS MPSTME Civil Engineering
The department has published two patents, research papers at international conferences
The Civil Engineering department of NMIMS MPSTME has been making significant strides in the field of disaster management, flood resilience, and sustainable infrastructure. The department has published two patents, research papers at international conferences, and completed several student-led projects on topics such as renewable energy, groundwater modelling, and self-healing concrete.
The first patent, ‘Automated Flood Water Regulating Multipurpose System,’ proposes a novel approach to flood resilience by constructing multipurpose wells on the banks of rivers to discharge excess water and generate hydropower. The second patent, ‘Aqua Barrier,’ is an automated mechanism that can protect any flood-prone area, regardless of its size, from any disasters caused due to water.
The student-led projects are equally impressive, with topics ranging from low-volume rural concrete roads to oscillating tidal wave energy converters. These projects showcase the department’s focus on sustainable infrastructure, renewable energy, and innovative design.
The faculty at NMIMS MPSTME Civil Engineering department, led by Head, Dr. Meenal Mategaonkar and Research coordinator, Dr. Jigisha Vashi, played a vital role in guiding and mentoring students toward research excellence. Their expertise and guidance have enabled students to participate and win awards in prestigious competitions such as the CDRI’s ‘Imagining Disaster Resilient Structures’ and The University of Queensland’s ‘Engineering Design Challenge, and AAKAR at IIT Bombay.’
The department’s success is further evidenced by the achievements of its students in national and international conferences. Students presented their research papers in Scopus Indexed papers and conferences such as the 9th Indian Young Geotechnical Engineering Conference and the Eighth Indian Young Geotechnical Conference.
Dr. Meenal Mategaonkar, Head of the Civil Engineering Department, MPSTME, NMIMS, said, “The achievements of the NMIMS MPSTME Civil Engineering department demonstrate its commitment to developing innovative solutions for complex problems in the field of civil engineering. The department’s focus on sustainable infrastructure, disaster resilience, and renewable energy is essential for addressing the challenges faced by society today. It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of both students and faculty and their commitment to excellence.”
Embark on a Journey of Scientific Empowerment with NMIMS School of Science’s Innovative Programs!
The school is known for its strong emphasis on academic excellence, research, and innovation, and is recognized as one of the leading science schools in the country
SVKM’s NMIMS Sunandan Divatia School of Science (SDSOS) has officially announced the commencement of the admissions process for its Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral programs. The school is known for its strong emphasis on academic excellence, research, and innovation, and is recognized as one of the leading science schools in the country.
Aspiring students who are interested in pursuing a career in the field of science can now apply for various undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctoral programs offered by SDSOS. The Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) programs are available in Applied Psychology, Biomedical Science, and Animation and VFX, while the Master of Science (M.Sc.) programs are offered in Chemistry, Biological Sciences, Applied Psychology, and Physiotherapy. The school also offers Ph.D. program in Science with various disciplines such as Chemistry, and Biological Sciences.
With a focus on creating industry-ready and research-savvy graduates, SDSOS has been at the forefront of imparting cutting-edge knowledge and practical skills through constantly evolving curriculums and state-of-the-art facilities and is situated in the heart of Mumbai.
Dr. Purvi Bhatt, I/C Dean, Sunandan Divatia School of Science, said, “The school provides a dynamic and inclusive learning environment that fosters creativity, critical thinking, and innovation. Our interdisciplinary approach to education prepares students for successful careers in science and beyond, while our emphasis on co-curricular and extracurricular activities ensures their holistic development.”
The school has a student-centric environment that supports research in niche areas of Science & Technology, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and equipment to enhance students’ hands-on skills, and a library facility that is constantly updated with the latest information. The labs at SDSOS provide modernised infrastructure and the latest equipment such as the animal tissue culture lab and the wet labs at the department of Biological Sciences offer cutting-edge technology to mould students into scientists.
School of Science offers a wide range of opportunities for students to explore their talents and interests, as well as gain valuable practical experience. The events and activities mentioned, such as Excalibur, National Science Day, Open day, Guest talks, Book Talk, Sports Day, Psych Film Fest, and club activities like photography and art, these programs provide a platform for students to demonstrate their abilities and gain insights from their peers.
The Future of Architecture Takes Center Stage at NMIMS BSSA
Leach is a co-founder of Digital FUTURES and an academician at the Academy of Europe
NMIMS Balwant Sheth School of Architecture was excited to host Open Studio 2022-23 program by the renowned architectural theorist and digital design expert, Neil Leach, on 28th March 2023 and the title was, “Tell me that AI ain’t scary”
Leach is a co-founder of Digital FUTURES and an academician at the Academy of Europe. Leach has published over 40 books on architectural theory and digital design, including “Architecture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence: An Introduction to AI for Architects” and “The AI Design Revolution: How AI Will Transform Architecture.”
In the lecture, Leach highlighted the potential threat that artificial intelligence (AI) poses to the field of architecture. With the recent launch of GPT4 and the growing capabilities of AI, there is concern among architects that their jobs may be at risk. Leach provided an informed overview of the current state of AI and its potential impact on the architecture profession.
“We are very happy and proud to host Professor Neil Leach at the school. As a leading school of architecture, we are committed to providing our students with a comprehensive education that equips them with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in the rapidly evolving field of design. Our Open Studio program and public lectures, and talks by experts like Neil Leach, play a critical role in this mission by enabling students to learn from distinguished scholars and practitioners and engage with cutting-edge ideas and technologies. We are excited to continue providing these opportunities and look forward to seeing the impact they will have on the future of architecture and design,” said, BSSA Dean, Dr. Kaiwan Mehta. As the field of architecture continues to evolve, it is essential to stay informed about emerging technologies and their potential impact on the profession. NMIMS BSSA School enables students to learn from experts and engage with pressing issues in architecture and design. By inviting renowned scholars and practitioners like Neil Leach to share their insights and expertise, the school provides a valuable opportunity for students to expand their knowledge and deepen their understanding of the field.
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