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Tiny electronics could solve security issues

12 March 2018
A University of Sydney engineer has developed a new nanotechnology-based component that could sit at the heart of anti-counterfeiting technologies for the fashion and defence industries and fraud-proof verification techniques for online machines.

Working with an international team, Dr Omid Kavehei from the School of Electrical and Information Engineering has designed an innovative building block for a new security system that could enable significantly improved security for a variety of authentication strategies that are used in cyber-physical and internet-connected portable devices.

Dr Kavehei is investigating how a new breed of low-cost tiny electronic devices at nanoscales – just billionths of a metre or 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair – could be used to ensure the security of authentication and verification processes in the billions of devices connected to the Internet. These devices could be used in the fashion industry, or in medical devices such as pacemakers, or electronic chipsets used in defence/military components.

“Impenetrable authentication is the pillar of security in most physical devices. The challenge is how to build a robust authentication mechanism that is inexpensive, reliable and does not need excessive energy supply to function,” Dr Kavehei said.

“We believe nanotechnology has a lot to offer, particularly in this era of dramatic rise in the number of connected devices and the hand-in-hand growth of cyber-attacks involving internet-connected devices.”

Dr Kavehei started researching how emerging technologies can be used in security applications while working at RMIT and the University of Melbourne and has continued his work since commencing at the University of Sydney last year.

Recently, Dr Kavehei and collaborators from the University of California Santa Barbara and the National Institute for R&D in Microtechnologies in Romania designed a new basic building block for security systems made from integrated memristors – nanoscale electrical components that limit or regulate the flow of electrical current in a circuit.

Dr Kavehei was a co-author on a recently published Nature Electronics paper that demonstrated a functioning proof-of-concept for this research.

In the paper, the authors successfully verified their prototype’s functionality by measuring it against key security metrics and novel machine learning attacks. Their experiments showed the prototype exhibited near ideal performance and robustness against different attacks.

“The set of features we have come up with offer a number of advantages over other current systems and could revolutionise authentication and anti-counterfeiting solutions in future,” Dr Kavehei said.

“From anti-counterfeiting applications in the multitrillion dollar fashion industry, to ultra-sensitive anti-tampering techniques in the defence industry, to day-to-day usage of connected devices, this nanotechnology-based innovation provides an unparalleled set of features at a low cost on a tiny silicon area, while using a very small amount of energy.

“Another challenge we are facing is to ensure proper authentication in billions of devices. The proposed system could reliably generate a massive number of unique secret keys unknown to even us who fabricated devices, and hence, enabling a broad range of applicability across multiple industries,” he said.

The next phase of this research will see Dr Kavehei and his collaborators implement new set of novel protocols and authentication mechanisms that uses the full spectrum of options the nano-system has on offer.

“We think we may be able to reach a point where reliably be able to remove the need for conventional authentication requirements and replace them with our nano-based solution.” he said.

Dr Kavehei is a member of the University of Sydney Nano Institute.

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