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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

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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.

MIT researchers developed two security schemes that protect analog-to-digital converters (ADC) from power and electromagnetic side-channel attacks using randomization. On the left is a micrograph of an ADC that randomly splits the analog-to-digital conversion process into groups of unit increments and switches them at different times. On the right is a micrograph of an ADC that splits the chip into two halves, enabling it to select two random starting points for the conversion process while speeding up the conversion.
Credits:Courtesy of the researchers

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.

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NMIMS SBM Offers MBA (Part-Time) Program for Working Executives

The program focuses on providing a holistic education to enhance their employability

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Start your professional learning journey now with the best-in-class MBA (Part-Time) program with the most sought-after prestigious NMIMS, School of Business Management, featured in the top 100 global B-schools as per Financial Times MiM 2022 ranking. A highly respected business school in India with a legacy of 41 years and a prestigious faculty announces admissions open for their MBA (Part-Time) program at their Mumbai campus.

This program offers an opportunity for working executives to acquire a high-end compact management qualification through rigorous and qualitative in-class learning and practical exposure to industry expertise. The program focuses on providing a holistic education to enhance their employability, exposing working executives to contemporary trends and practices in management. It also provides excellent academic resources coupled with industry best practices to boost the managerial competence of executives.

NMIMS SBM MBA (Part-Time) is accredited by Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) for working executives who want to enhance their skills and advance their careers. NMIMS has world-class pedagogy to provide students with a comprehensive and engaging learning experience. NMIMS SBM has a team of experts with extensive experience in the business world. The program structure is upto 40% hybrid and 60% in the classroom, whereas Bloomberg Certification Program will help students use financial analysis tools more efficiently. 

“The program is specifically meant for executives who have spent quality time in the industry and have adequate exposure to managerial roles and responsibilities. The two-year MBA (Part-Time) program will offer an opportunity for participants to hone their managerial skills and enable them to contribute better to their decision-making. It has been designed to empower students with a well-planned schedule that allows for a balance between study and work,” said Dr. Prashant Mishra, Dean School of Business Management.

Dr. Pradeep Pai, Program Chairperson, MBA (Part-Time), School of Business Management, said, “NMIMS SBM is proud to offer this innovative program to working professionals who wish to take the next step in their careers. We believe that this program will be a preferred executive education program for working professionals seeking to upgrade their qualifications by acquiring a widely acclaimed MBA degree.”

The MBA (Part-Time) program goes beyond traditional education by providing learners value-added workshops and industry connections. Our curriculum is regularly updated to ensure students receive the most current knowledge. The program helps them gain a practical and theoretical understanding of the industry and creates a network of professionals for them as they progress.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • 50% in Graduation from a recognized University in any discipline. (Distance/Part time/Full time)
  • Minimum 3 years of work experience in an executive or supervisory capacity or self-employed after graduation & up to the date of written test/personal interview.
  • The work experience should be full-time experience and should NOT include internships, projects, training periods, trainee (management, engineering), etc.

Selection Process:

Written Test conducted for MBA (Part-Time) by NMIMS OR Candidates with GMAT score of 600 and above (GMAT score of last 5 years up to the closure of registrations will be considered) OR Candidates with a score of 200 and above in NMAT by GMAC examinations for 2020 admission AND Personal Interview

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eSecForte visited Northeast to strengthen Industry-Academia Interface for Achieving Effective Cybersecurity Prospects  

The team also visited the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Manipur and interacted with students on the topic of Digital Forensics Challenges and career options

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In an effort to create a holistic ecosystem for cybersecurity in the country, the team from eSecForte led by Lt Col (Dr.) Santosh Khadsare  (Retd), VP Digital Forensics  & Incident Response  visited the National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology (NEILT), Kohima and held discussions with the director of the institute, L. Lanuwabang. The deliberations were focused on enlarging the gambit of cybersecurity especially digital forensics in the country and how eSecForte and NEILT can come together to contribute effectively in this regard. 

The team also visited the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Manipur and interacted with students on the topic of Digital Forensics Challenges and career options. The discussion entailed how the use of digital forensics can prove instrumental in bringing the perpetrators of cybercrimes to the book. The various challenges related to the implementation of tools and methodologies of digital forensics were also part of the very constructive dialogue that was held between our team and enthusiastic students. 

The team lead had a very fruitful discussion with Dr Krishnan Bhaskar, Director, IIIT, Imphal and discussed how the Industry-Academia interface can do wonders in the field of cybersecurity and digital forensics. Specifically, detailed deliberations were held on devising exchange mechanisms and collaborative opportunities so that industry and academics can come together and lead to the creation of a self-sustainable ecosystem in the field of cybersecurity. Such development will ensure that cases related to the cybercrimes are dealt swiftly and lead to desired outcomes in terms of ensuring justice and well-being for all participating stakeholders. 

In the next leg of the reaching out journey, eSecForte’s team paid a visit to the National Forensic Science University (NFSU), Imphal campus and exchanged ideas with the campus coordinator on the latest trends and developments in the field of digital forensics. Apprising the importance of digital forensics to investigating officers, Lt Col (Dr.) Santosh Khadsare  (Retd), VP DFIR interacted with more than 400 trainees of the North Eastern Police Academy (NEPA), Shillong. These aspirants were thoroughly apprised of the importance of digital forensics and its utility in cracking cases related to cyberfrauds, cyberbullying, and other allied crimes associated with cyberspace. Case studies were discussed on how to handle digital evidence at the crime scenes with utmost care so that trace evidence won’t get lost in the logistical procedures and processes. The team showcased flagship products of eSecForte, Digital Forensic workstations and Faraday bags and informed them of the utility of these offerings built under India’s ambitious MAKE IN INDIA (MII) project. 

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Roots Collegium signs World Chess Champion Koneru Humpy as Brand Ambassador

Chairman, Sri. B.P.Padala announces Koneru Humpy as the Brand Ambassador of Roots Collegium educational institutions

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  • Humpy will be the face of its upcoming brand-related undertakings

Celebrating its 30 years’ legacy in imparting holistic education, Roots Collegium, a well-known educational institution in Hyderabad has today announced World Chess Champion Koneru Humpy as its Brand Ambassador. The appointment of Ms. Koneru Humpy is set to boost the brand image of Roots Collegium amplifying the institution’s philosophy in making its students achieve global exposure.

With the signing up of world chess champion Koneru Humpy as its Brand Ambassador, Roots Collegium will be exploring untapped areas of new-age innovations and add them to its list of achievements in the last 30 years. The fast expanding Roots Collegium, started in 1991, offers intermediate courses and almost all the streams of Bachelor’s degrees. Roots collegium is providing a wide range of courses like BBA, BBA (Business Analytics, B.Com (General, computers, sales), BA (Mass Communication, Psychology, and modern languages), and B.Sc. (Data Analysis). The college provides a variety of courses in design, film and media, visual arts, hotel management, culinary arts, and also many other certificate courses.

Reacting to her appointment, Koneru Humpy said “It is my pleasure to be the brand ambassador of Roots Collegium. I thank Sri. BP Padala gaaru for the honour. Roots Collegium as an institution has been offering the best educational facilities for its students for the last 30 years. Roots and I share a similar journey as we both have started our journey’s 30 years back. We both have same passion, integrity and ethics. That’s the special part about Roots Collegium, to which I instantly related to. And now we are ready to travel together.  As an ambassador, I look forward to contributing my committed services to the college and helping them grow in stature. I will take part in each and every event of the college and would like to share my thoughts and way-forward ideas in all its initiatives. Once again I want to thank all the staff and management for choosing me as a brand ambassador.”

Koneru Humpy is the FIDE Women’s rapid chess champion of 2019. She became the youngest woman to achieve the title of a Grandmaster back in 2002 at the age of 15. Her association will be an added feather to the cap of Roots Collegium’s growing achievements and a historic moment in its journey. 

The Chairman of Roots Collegium, Sri. B P Padala said “It’s our honour to have such a young and dynamic chess champion, Koneru Humpy as our brand ambassador. I wish the students of Roots Collegium will be motivated by such an inspiring champion who has come across a lot to be in this position today. I have no doubt that with her determination and strong belief, she become a world champion. I hope every student will inculcate the habit of not giving up and fighting for what they want, from her. She will be a role model for each and every student of our institution. I thank Koneru Humpy for accepting this position and people like her will definitely help bring change in society.”

The students of Roots Collegium from different places in Hyderabad city are excited and look forward to listen to the life-changing stories from Koneru Humpy in the future. 

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