How to Ensure Hardware Security for Chips?

Ensuring the security of semiconductor chips comes easy when hardware design is optimized from the initial stages.

FREMONT, CA: Advanced electronic systems possess software stacks that are security-critical. Optimized hardware security plays a vital role in preventing entire semiconductor chip-based systems from falling prey to security vulnerabilities. As semiconductors find their way into every other smart system, be it industrial or personal, device safety is assuming a lot of importance. Thus, it is high time to consider the role of hardware design to prevent security compromises in Integrated Chips (ICs) and semiconductor Intellectual Properties (IPs).

Unlike software issues that can be fixed with patches, vulnerabilities in hardware are difficult to overcome. On the other hand, secure hardware can reduce the need for software patches. Conventional methods that used to enable hardware security for semiconductor chips are now losing significance. There is a need for multi-layered security in chips that would involve efficient design flows, right from the ground up. As security analyses give rise to new threat models, and hardware security considerations, potential solutions have started to emerge.

One way of ensuring high-integrity in hardware development is by checking for the aspects of functional correctness, and safety and security, throughout all IC and IP development stages. Pre-silicon verifications are vital from this perspective. The advancements in Electronic Design Automation (EDA) technologies also present significant opportunities for developing high-integrity chips. Even though hardware security is in its infancy, commercial EDA tools have the potential to induce a certain level of standardization into hardware security specifications. Once mainstream, such EDA technologies would empower chip providers to execute specifications and optimize hardware design integrity conveniently.

Hardware Trojans are also a major source of threat for semiconductor IPs and ICs. The provisions that protect firmware in the chips are not potent enough to detect malicious hardware in the circuits. Security monitors that can catch malicious behavior and data tracking systems that can recognize anomalies are emerging ways of assessing and fostering the integrity of chip design against the Trojans. To prevent defects in hardware design from jeopardizing the security and integrity of semiconductor chips, stakeholders need to start prioritizing hardware security in every stage of chip fabrication. 

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