Embedded Security Innovation

Colin O’Flynn is a Halifax, Canada-based engineer (and Circuit Cellar columnist) who recently launched a company to commercial some of the research he’s done as a PhD student working on embedded hardware security. His Chipwhisperer Lite is a board that you can use to learn about various side-channel attacks.

Photo 1: This shows the ChipWhisperer-Lite, which contains a Xilinx Spartan 6 LX9 FPGA and Atmel SAM3U2C microcontroller. The remaining circuitry involves the power supplies, ADC, analog processing, and a development device which the user programs with some cryptographic algorithm they are analyzing.

The ChipWhisperer Lite contains a Xilinx Spartan 6 LX9 FPGA and Atmel SAM3U2C microcontroller.

According to O’Flynn, any engineer who needs to use encryption in a design should be able to perform a side-channel attack. The idea is to determine the consequences of such an attack on their product.

“The basic idea is that if you have a microcontroller, or you have anything, internally is has a bunch of bus lines. It physically takes power to set some of those databus lines high or low. Put FF and you are setting all the databus lines high. At the instant you do that, at the clock cycle you do that, it takes more power than if you set the databus lines all low.”

In the following video, O’Flynn talks about his work.