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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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Business & Economy

Campus 365 provides cloud-based seamless solutions to educational institutions 

With its ERP software and pioneering technological innovation, Campus 365 is disrupting the education sector and making education more effective and accessible

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Just as technology, and particularly the digital era, has disrupted and improved most major segments of India’s economy, education and training is also undergoing a tech revolution. Education Technology, more commonly known as EdTech, possesses the power to bridge the learning gap thanks to technology’s ability to eliminate geographical barriers. As much as digital adoption is the need of the hour, it is critical to retain a few unparalleled benefits of a traditional classroom setup such as group discussion, personalised support from educators and creating opportunities to work on peer collaborative assignments.

Armed with a mission to empower schools with tools that serve people in the most human, helpful way, Campus 365- an ed-tech start-up incubated by NASSCOM 10000 startup based out of Gurgaon, is providing cloud-based solutions to schools and colleges to manage and track their daily activities seamlessly. With user-friendly mobile apps to help students, parents, and teachers maintain the academic cycle, Campus 365 provides a 360-degree outlook to stakeholders assisting them in making productive decisions to escalate their progress.

“We all know that the introduction of EdTech is transforming the learning process in schools. Initially, technological abilities were not needed for students but these skills are now of much importance. Today, students should have good knowledge of online communication to attend classes, check emails, and submit assignments online and our school ERP gives our students a dedicated platform for this to make them future-ready. We at Campus 365 believe that technology is a powerful instrument that can elevate education to an advanced level, allowing students to learn and collaborate in new ways and we are constantly working towards it” said  Mayank Singh Co- Founder and CEO of Campus 365.

Campus 365 is India’s largest all-in-one app for teachers, schools, and coaching institutes to manage their online and offline classrooms in one place. This online teaching and institute management app helps users create tests & quizzes, share study material & homework, chat with students, take live online classes, record live lectures, teach using digital whiteboard, automate attendance, and much more.

Empowering 1000+ institutes globally, Campus 365’s mission is to enhance student learning by bringing innovation to education. Campus 365 partners with schools and colleges across the country to provide students with a holistic learning experience that makes them future-ready. The company offers a high-quality, end-to-end solution for every stakeholder involved in a child’s learning journey. Campus 365 tackles some of the most critical aspects of School management and reduces school staff workload. By doing so, the company ensures that school teachers nurture the young minds of tomorrow and that the school support staff enjoys using the Campus 365 School ERP engine’s superior apps. Campus 365’s innovative school management software solutions are aimed at providing the best of School ERP features and safety measures to school-going children.

Campus 365’s team is founded with a deep-rooted passion toward delivering value to not just schools, but to parents and teachers as well, who ensure that children are always walking on the path of constant innovation. Today, Campus 365 is used by schools around the world – from kindergarten to higher studies schools and non-profit schools.

Campus 365 has simplified the managing of day-to-day activities such as attendance marking, alerts through mobile applications, fees payment reminders, parent-teacher notifications, and holiday schedules. Every team member in Team Campus 365 has some experience in School and College Management Process and it is also one of the reasons why the company puts concerted efforts into optimising the School and College Management Software. Breaking complex software and making them user-friendly is the top priority of Team Campus 365.

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Edu News

Study Australia successfully concludes the Study Australia Entrepreneurship Challenge

The winners of the SAEC 2022 are – Team Econominds of MITWPU University, Pune

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The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade- Australian Government agency) successfully concluded its Study Australia Entrepreneurship Challenge (SAEC-2022) in Delhi on September 23, 2022.

The winners of the SAEC 2022 are – Team Econominds of MITWPU University, Pune. The all-girls team has won a Student Tour to Australia, which will take place in March 2023.

Their theme was Circular Economy and Challenge question was – ‘How might we ensure that the clothing we wear is more sustainable’. The members of the team are Nishita Bhattad, Jasmine Mehta, Samiksha Joshi, Shweta Karthik and Muskan Kashyap.

The award is sponsored by Study Adelaide.

During this tour the winners will get a glimpse of the Australian lifestyle and will get the chance to visit and learn more about Australian education institutions and Australian entrepreneurship ecosystem and start-up culture.

The first runners-up of SAEC 2022 are Team Ekta from NMIMS, Mumbai. They have won a $2000 scholarship each, sponsored by Study New South Wales – which the students will be able to use towards the tuition fee for a full-time postgraduate degree program at any NSW education provider.

The second runners-up of SAEC 2022 are Team Glovis Rise from Lovely Professional University, Punjab who bagged a cash prize of $500 each, sponsored by Study Queensland.

Ms. Melissa Bank, Head of International Education Centre of Excellence, Austrade said, “Australia has always been a preferred destination for Indian students when it comes to higher education. We are seeing an increase in the number of Indian students applying to Australian universities every year. With the re-opening of borders after the pandemic, we are witnessing a constant surge in number of students arriving in Australia. The Australian government is committed to provide them the best-in-class education while also equipping them with necessary skills to facilitate their dream of becoming global citizens. Our goal behind setting up this competition was to help students learn about Australian entrepreneurship eco-system and its institutions. I am glad that all the participants were highly involved with this programme and we have been able to highlight the key differential factor that can make them an entrepreneur.”

The Study Australia Entrepreneurship Challenge was an initiative to engage highly-skilled students from the Indian higher education institutes who participated in a series of hybrid events, which were based on Ted X-meets-Hackathon. The participants formed multidisciplinary teams and participated in a two-week program showcasing the opportunities of Australia’s education sector and the Australian entrepreneurial and start-up ecosystems.

As part of the challenge, the teams created a 3-minute pitch video idea on the following challenge themes – Cybersecurity, Circular Economy, Digital Health, and Creative Industries. The participating teams also had access to mentors from Australian academia and industry who guided them in the development of their video pitches. They got in-depth understanding of their chosen topic during academic spotlights that were delivered by Australian academic experts, as well. The jury panel for the contest included Ms. Melissa Bank, Head of International Education Centre of Excellence, Austrade and Mr Sukhmeet Singh, Co-founder, A2P Energy.

In recent years, Australia has been a leading destination for Indian students seeking to study abroad, and it has progressively emerged as a preferred choice for many. Since the border re-opening in mid-December 2021 until 22 July 2022, over 260,000 student visa holders reached Australia.

Furthermore, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission’s “The Study Australia Industry Experience Program (SAIEP)” was launched for current Indian and other international students at Australian universities to enhance their employability skills.

More information about Study Australia and the support for Indian students is available at https://www.studyaustralia.gov.au/india

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Edu News

University of Essex Online invites applications for PG Cert Global Mental Health and Wellbeing

University of Essex Online courses are delivered by Kaplan Open Learning in partnership with the University of Essex

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The University of Essex Online is inviting applications for the October intake of the PG Cert Global Mental Health and Wellbeing. The course deals with a wide range of topics, including identifying and processing challenges which impact global mental health, as well as interpreting and understanding ethical policies for an international framework.

This course is designed with a specific focus on the critical perspectives of global mental health policy and practices.  Students will gain the skills and experience required to pursue a career as a mentor, coach, manager, mental health lead or wellbeing adviser. With further training, one could also become a specialist nurse, specialist mental health practitioner or health service manager.

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be awarded a certificate from the University of Essex – one of the UK’s top 40 universities (Complete University Guide 2023).

Course duration and delivery:  This is a 100% online part-time course with an indicative study duration of eight months.

Course content is delivered through a cutting-edge virtual learning environment (VLE), giving students 24/7 access to study materials, such as lecturecasts. This offers a contemporary and accessible way to interact with multimedia content and check understanding via engaging and interactive activities.

Application deadline: 20 October 2022 

Entry requirements: 

·       For the academic entry route, students must have an undergraduate degree from an approved institution, equivalent to a UK Honours degree, or a relevant professional qualification.

·       For the work experience entry route, students must have at least three years of work experience (voluntary or paid) within a relevant field, supported by two appropriate references.

·       As part of the application process, applicants will be asked to take a short aptitude test which is designed to evaluate their ability to handle the intellectual and practical demands of the course. 

·       If English isn’t your first language, your ability should be equivalent to an IELTS (Academic) score of 6.5. If you don’t hold an IELTS or equivalent qualification, the University offers a free online English test.

How to apply:  

Please visit: https://online.essex.ac.uk/apply/

Tuition fee: £3,945

Scholarship:  Merit-based scholarships are available based on prior academic achievements and work experience.

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