Cyber Defense

Army building common ground for device encryption

Encryption of hardware devices is important for soldiers in the field, and it’s also effective, as the FBI’s ongoing dispute with Apple shows. But managing multiple encryption codes for multiple devices can be daunting, which is why the Army is looking to simplify its encryption capability with a kind of common denominator.    

With the development of a universal encryptor, the Army wants to decrease the number and variety of cryptographic engine cores for authenticating users as several are typically created during a device’s construction. The universal encrytor developed by the Army Materiel Command’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) will provide cryptographic services to numerous devices.

The fielding of such a tool – in line with requirements from the National Security Agency – will increase capability while decreasing costs and timelines. The REprogrammable Single Chip Universal Encrytor, or RESCUE, can be used in radios, satellites, computers, unmanned air or ground systems, or anything that transmits encrypted information, an Army release stated.

“What we want to be able to do is have that solid crypto core that provides the standard cryptographic functions and services that most of our devices need, to include support for Cryptographic Modernization, Key Management Infrastructure-awareness and Product Delivery Enclave-enabled capabilities. That way we can concentrate on the truly innovative and particularly unique pieces of those end technologies,” project lead Donald Coulter said.  

While some government agencies are working on similar common cryptographic core chips, RESCUE is the only one with a broad set of capabilities.

CERDEC’s Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate possess requisite expertise in cryptographic research and development necessary for a project of this scope, Rocio Bauer of CERDEC’s S&TCD said.

The Army intends RESCUE to become a Field Programmable Gate Array, meaning that developers can specifically tailor information on the chip and allow for easier reprogramming. “If there's a new algorithm capability that comes along or a new algorithm, we can actually update the image on there and add that capability so we don't necessarily have to create a brand new chip and bring every device back and put a whole new chip in. We can update the image on the chip,” Coulter said.        

One of the most important aspects of the new project is that the government will own the rights for RESCUE. “In the past, we have been in the position where we have had the solution, but we don't have the rights to modify it, repair it,” Coulter said. “If we needed to do any of that stuff, we had to go back to the original vendor and get them to do it at whatever rate [cost] they choose.”

Government ownership will also boost the number of potential Army vendors as well, given that it won’t be reliant on specific vendors that can provide this type of technology. 

The Army said RESCUE should be NSA-certified and ready in requirements documents by September 2017.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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