Verayo discovers how to fingerprint chips for security usage

2009 InfoWorld CTO 25 Awards: Srini Devadas

2009 InfoWorld CTO 25 Awards

Srini Devadas


As professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, Srini Devadas knew the integrated circuits that make up various computer chips have natural variations that are impossible to control, model, or replicate. After several years researching these natural manufacturing variances, he realized he could exploit them to create a class of electrical circuit primitives -- called physical unclonable features, or PUFs -- that let each chip have a unique, noncopyable signature. This, in turn, could do away with the need for secret stored keys in authentication devices; instead, each PUF-optimized chip's unique, unclonable signature becomes that secret key used for cryptographic authentication.

The use of PUFs lets the chips serve as a unique identifier, such as for passports and smart cards, that networked RFID readers can detect at lower cost than other hardware-based digital signatures, says Devadas. He formed Verayo to commercialize the PUF technology, releasing a networked RFID-based reader and IC design templates that create the PUFs in 2008; these allow for the equivalent of unique 100-bit keys to be "stored" in the chips. Furthermore, Devadas notes, the nonlinear nature of PUFs prohibits a common attack against high-bit keys: simulation.

As CTO of Verayo, Devadas is now working on the technology's next step: a non-networked reader that can validate PUFs.

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