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Latest in Public-Key Encryption Chip
Latest in Public-Key Encryption Chip
Researchers have built a new chip, hardwired to perform public-key encryption, that consumes less power, uses less memory and executes faster.
Technology Briefing

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As we all know, hacking is a big deal.

Public-key encryption protocols are complicated, and in computer networks, they're executed by software. But that won't work in the internet of things, connecting sensors embedded in vehicles, appliances, civil structures, manufacturing equipment, and even livestock tags, to online servers.

Tiny embedded sensors that need to maximize battery life can't afford the energy and memory space that software execution of encryption protocols would require.

But now, MIT researchers have built a new chip, hardwired to perform public-key encryption, that consumes 400 times less power, uses about 10 percent as much memory and executes 500 times faster. The researchers described the chip in a paper presented at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference.
Most modern public-key encryption systems use a technique called elliptic-curve encryption.

Cryptographers are coming up with curves with different properties, and they use different primes.  What sets the new chip apart is that it is a hardware solution designed to handle anyelliptic curve. The MIT chip's modular multiplier section can handle 256-bit numbers, this eliminates the extra circuitry for integrating smaller computations, reducing the chip's energy consumption and increases its speed.

Another key operation in elliptic-curve cryptography is inversion, which is the calculation of a number that, when multiplied by a given number, will yield a modular product of 1. The MIT researchers equipped their chip with a special-purpose inverter circuit. This increases the chip's surface area by 10 percent, but it cuts the power consumption in half.

The most common encryption protocol to use elliptic-curve cryptography is called the datagram transport layer security protocol, which is hardwired into the MIT researchers' chip, dramatically reducing the amount of memory required for its execution.

The chip also features a general-purpose processor that can be used in conjunction with the dedicated circuitry to execute other elliptic-curve-based security protocols. And this general-purpose processor can be powered down when not in use, so it doesn't compromise the chip's energy efficiency.  
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