Quick Study

By Brian Robinson

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'Encryption on a chip' raises hopes for better security

Encryption is often cited as one of the answers to cybersecurity woes, but it's a tough process to handle for many of the smaller devices that people now carry around—and tend to lose—along with all of the sensitive data on them (think laptops at the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, among others).

Putting encryption into the processors that run these devices would greatly simplify things.

Huzzah! Chipmaker Intel Corp. recently announced it has come up with a process that would allow the random-number generator, which is the basis for encryption, to be made with the same semiconducting material and at the same feature size now used for modern processors. The generators would also be all digital, rather than the current generation of hard-to-handle analog components.

An IEEE Spectrum story quotes Greg Taylor, director of Intel's Circuit Research Lab, as saying that this new device can generate billions of random bits per second and is more random than current analog generators, which means the encryption is even stronger.

Here's an example of what encryption can do for you, if done properly. Brazilian police trying to get a look at the hard drive on a suspected financial criminal's computer were unable to crack the encryption he used after months of trying and after getting the FBI and its famed investigators involved.

One of the algorithms apparently was based on the venerable 256-bit AES encryption standard, which is one of the standards recommended by NIST.

However, as security guru Bruce Schneier points out (and hat-tip to him for the Brazilian story lead), it's how you apply encryption that matters.

Posted by Brian Robinson on Jun 30, 2010 at 9:03 AM


Reader Comments

Wed, Jul 7, 2010 Ron Florida

Since the "weakest link" is always the greatest risk, why attempt to improve security by addressing a symptom of the problem instead of the problem itself? EXAMPLE: If having the sensitive data on portable equipment was either not allowed or only allowed within certain confines, would this particular type of compromise (lost or stolen laptops)still be a topic of conversation?

Thu, Jul 1, 2010 Russ Dietz California

Interesting, I have been in the crypto chip space for almost 15 years and we have had PRNG and TRNG in encryption chips co-located with processors. I assume the big deal is digital noise sources for generation of the entropy, otherwise I am missing the "hype".

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