Hacker attacks on industrial plants are no longer fiction. Attackers can steal information about production processes or paralyse entire factories. To prevent this, computer chip in the individual components of the plants already communicate with each other in an encrypted form
Computer chip created by a team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) implements post-quantum cryptography particularly effectively. Such a computer chip, in future, could protect against hacker attacks with quantum computers. The researchers have also built hardware Trojans into the chip. They want to investigate how such “malware from the chip factory” can be debunked.
Hacker attacks on industrial plants are no longer fiction. Attackers can steal information about production processes or paralyse entire factories. To prevent this, computer chip in the individual components of the plants already communicate with each other in an encrypted form. However, many encryption algorithms will soon no longer offer protection. While today’s computers cannot crack established procedures, quantum computers would certainly be able to do so. This is especially critical for durable devices such as industrial plants.
For this reason, to develop technical standards for post-quantum cryptography, security experts worldwide are working feverishly. One of the challenges here is the high computational demands of these encryption methods. A team led by Georg Sigl, Professor for Security in Information Technology at TUM, has now designed and had manufactured a computer chip that implements post-quantum cryptography particularly effectively.
Sigl and his team rely on a hardware-software co-design. In this process, specialised components and control software complement each other. “Our chip is the first to consistently rely on a hardware-software co-design for post-quantum cryptography”, says Prof. Sigl. “As a result, it can implement encryption with ‘Kyber’, one of the most promising candidates for post-quantum cryptography, about ten times as fast as a computer chip that rely on pure software solutions, consumes about eight times less energy and is almost as flexible as them”.
The computer chip is an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). According to the specifications of companies, such specialised microcontrollers are often manufactured in large numbers. Based on the open-source RISC-V standard, the TUM team modified an open-source chip design. This de facto standard is becoming more widespread and could replace proprietary approaches by large companies in many areas. Through a modification of the computing core and specific additional instructions with which necessary computing operations are accelerated, the chip becomes post-quantum cryptography-capable on the one hand.
In addition, the design was expanded to include a specially developed hardware accelerator.