Even though microchips continue to get smarter, vital security gaps continue to be exposed through such hack attacks as Meltdown, Spectre, and in recent weeks, Plundervolt. Researchers continue to discover open doors in chip architectures for malicious players to steal increasingly sensitive data, hide the identity of counterfeits, or tamper with electronics systems most anywhere along the global microelectronics supply chain.
Today, it’s impossible to have full visibility of the distributed chip making process – from design and fabrication to packaging, testing and delivery. That’s why our industry’s future hinges to a large degree on establishing a hardware root of trust throughout the silicon’s operational lifecycle. Trust but verify! It’s easy to say, but how do we do it?
To gain insights, SEMI interviewed Dr. Mark Tehranipoor, currently the Intel Charles E. Young Preeminence Endowed Chair Professor in Cybersecurity at the University of Florida’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. A foremost authority on microelectronics security and trust, counterfeit electronics detection, and supply chain risk management, Dr. Tehranipoor will be a keynote speaker at the SEMICON Taiwan Security on Chip Summit, Friday, September 25, where a full program of industry leaders will address key security challenges and solutions involving IoT, systems on a chip (SoCs), integrated circuits, physical unclonable function (PUF) technology, future design, certifications, managed services, and more.
For additional insights and to hear Dr. Tehranipoor’s full presentation, register for SEMICON Taiwan 2020, which SEMI is holding as a hybrid event with both a virtual format and an in-show program September 23-25.
SEMI: What are the major uncertainties in providing the hardware root of trust within the cyber domain?
Tehranipoor: One of the most critical issues we’re dealing with now is loss of control over the process of designing and fabricating integrated circuits and systems. This has happened along with globalization and the movement of supply chain operations overseas to lower costs of nearly all goods, including electronics products and semiconductors. As skill sets, talent, design and fabrication have all shifted offshore, concerns have also risen about security controls across the many different segments of the microelectronics supply chain.
For example, when you think about the security of military, space, transportation, power grids, financial or other networks, it becomes a major concern if you cannot trust the underlying electronics system that runs them. New SoCs are also holding more sensitive data around encryption keys, biometrics, personal information or banking data. And as reports escalate about cybersecurity gaps at the electronics part level, it’s increasingly important to establish a hardware root of trust.
Today, it’s not enough for a buyer to just call up the design house and verify the electronic ID of an asset. The ID might match, but the device could have been tampered with or replaced with a counterfeit somewhere along its end-to-end journey. Unlike software or networks where problems can be automatically identified, upgraded and fixed, verifying electronic hardware is a costly and time-consuming process, especially when they’re as complex as microchips. It can take months to deconstruct, reverse engineer, inspect, and authenticate a chip. By then, discovery of any security breaches is too late.
When addressing the security of electronics systems, there are three important features to keep in mind. First, there’s confidentiality. The device shouldn’t leak information to an unauthorized user. Second, there’s integrity. Unauthorized users should not be able to manipulate an SoC’s sensitive data. The third feature is availability, which can be a result of Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. If the device is under attack and can’t access your online service or network, you must still have security measures for your electronics system to be available in a safe mode while you simultaneously identify the problem, recover from it, and return to normal functions.
SEMI: What framework should be followed to establish greater trust and confidence across the entire microelectronics supply chain?
Tehranipoor: In the United States, we recognize it may not be possible to bring all manufacturing, design, and delivery teams back to this country and have them certified by the U.S. Department of Defense. You could do some of it, but it would be very costly and complex to bring back all the design, fab, testing, and packaging operations involved with electronics systems and still have complete control.
The most practical approach is to make sure we design electronic systems with security and trust in mind from the start. We need to provide security features up front throughout the extended supply chain – into the design flow, fab flow, and out into the field to make it easier and faster for anyone at any point to verify the authenticity of an electronic system as well as identify and mitigate a problem.
Finally, we have to remember that we are all in this together – designers, developers, packaging facilities and fabs. We can’t just blame semiconductor manufacturers or any other single entity. As a result, we must be cooperative and collaborative by focusing on this issue as a consortium. Everyone in this ecosystem must come to the table, share best practices, establish standards, and initiate best practices for device to system authentication.
SEMI: How can SEMI and the SEMI Electronic System Design (ESD) Alliance help the industry meet these challenges?
Tehranipoor: It’s certainly of utmost importance for members of organizations like SEMI and its ESD Alliance committees to jointly develop and adhere to standards or guidelines that establish hardware root of trust across all participants in the global supply chain. At the same time, such alliances should make it a high priority to protect each company’s intellectual property (IP). Collectively, we need resolutions that allow us to develop unique IPs and more easily trace, identify, and verify the authenticity of electronics systems as they flow throughout the end-to-end electronic supply chain. Great efforts are under way and progress is being made. But it’s not enough. Clearly, more needs to be done to establish root of trust standards at the chip level.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of consortia like the SEMI ESD Alliance to create an environment where industry, government, and academia can come together, share best practices and even case studies on how they handled security vulnerabilities and breaches. We understand that not everyone wants to share their security problems, vulnerabilities, or attack surfaces, but learning from each other’s experiences can have a tremendous impact on industrywide progress. If you don’t know what you need to address, you won’t be able to address it when it happens.
I also encourage organizations like SEMI to create standards or guidelines that reduce the complexity of microchip designs for security purposes. Realtors often say there are three things to consider in finding a home that will appreciate in value: Location, location, location. To build more secure electronics systems, my mantra is: Automation, automation, automation. Complexity is the enemy of security. By using automation to simplify security mechanisms and detect inconsistencies, it will be easier to find and fix security problems, not to mention lower costs at the same time.
SEMI: What will an attendee take away from your talk at SEMICON Taiwan?
Tehranipoor: I have a large team of researchers who day and night spot vulnerabilities by attacking and assessing data from different electronic systems set up in our labs. Attendees will see real-world examples and lab animations that show how electronics systems can be hacked most anywhere across the supply chain. They will also learn about step-by-step security solutions we have developed at the microchip level. We need to do a better job of protecting the security of our semiconductor assets and the electronic solutions or services they power. My call to action will be that we need to invest more in research and foster an environment of more open trust and cooperation. We can do this by bringing together different countries, companies, and organizations in the microelectronics ecosystem to overcome this major challenge.
Dr. Mark Tehranipoor is currently the Intel Charles E. Young Preeminence Endowed Chair Professor in Cybersecurity at the ECE Department, University of Florida. He is currently serving as Director for Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research (FICS), National Microelectronics Security Training Center (MEST), CYAN Center of Excellence, and ECI Transition Center. He also serves as Program Director of Cybersecurity for UF Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. His current research interests include IoT security, hardware security and trust, and reliable circuit design.
Samer Bahou is senior manager of corporate communications at SEMI.