Chip with secure encryption will help in fight against hackers

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Chip with secure encryption will help in fight against hackers
A team at the Chair of Security in Information Technology has developed a chip with particularly secure encryption technology. Johanna Baehr heads a second team at the chair that has hidden four hardware Trojans on this chip – malicious functions that are integrated directly into the circuits. Credit: Astrid Eckert / TUM

A team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has designed and commissioned the production of a computer chip that implements post-quantum cryptography very efficiently. Such chips could provide protection against future hacker attacks using quantum computers. The researchers also incorporated hardware Trojans in the chip in order to study methods for detecting this type of “malware from the chip factory.”

Hacker attacks on industrial operations are no longer science fiction—far from it. Attackers can steal information on production processes or shut down entire factories. To prevent this, communication between the chips in the individual components is encrypted. Before long, however, many encryption algorithms will become ineffective. The established processes that can fight off attacks launched with today’s computer technologies will be defenseless against quantum computers. This is especially critical for equipment with a long lifespan such as industrial facilities.

For this reason, security experts around the world are working to develop technical standards for “post-quantum cryptography.” One of the challenges is posed by the enormous processing power needed for these encryption methods. A team working with Georg Sigl, Professor of Security in Information Technology at TUM, has now designed and commissioned a highly efficient chip for post-quantum cryptography.

Speed and flexibility through a combination of hardware and software

Professor Sigl and his team took an approach based on hardware/software co-design, in which specialized components and the control software complement one another. “Ours is the first chip for post-quantum cryptography to be based entirely on a…