PUF Away For Hardware Fingerprinting

Despite the rigorous process controls for factories, anyone who has worked on hardware can tell you that parts may look identical but are not the same. Everything from silicon defects to microscopic variations in materials can cause profoundly head-scratching effects. Perhaps one particular unit heats up faster or locks up when executing a specific sequence of instructions and we throw our hands up, saying it’s just a fact of life. But what if instead of rejecting differences that fall outside a narrow range, we could exploit those tiny differences?

This is where physically unclonable functions (PUF) come in. A PUF is a bit of hardware that returns a value given an input, but each bit of hardware has different results despite being the same design. This often relies on silicon microstructure imperfections. Even physically uncapping the device and inspecting it, it would be incredibly difficult to reproduce the same imperfections exactly. PUFs should be like the ideal version of a fingerprint: unique and unforgeable.

Because they depend on manufacturing artifacts, there is a certain unpredictability, and deciding just what features to look at is crucial. The PUF needs to be deterministic and produce the same value for a given specific input. This means that temperature, age, power supply fluctuations, and radiation all cause variations and need to be hardened against. Several techniques such as voting, error correction, or fuzzy extraction are used but each comes with trade-offs regarding power and space requirements. Many of the fluctuations such as aging and temperature are linear or well-understood and can be easily compensated for.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of PUFs: weak and strong. Weak offers only a few responses and are focused on key generation. The key is then fed into more traditional cryptography, which means it needs to produce exactly the same output every time. Strong PUFs have exponential Challenge-Response Pairs and are used for authenticating. While strong PUFs still have some error-correcting they might be queried fifty times and it has to pass at least 95% of the queries to be considered authenticated, allowing for some error. Continue reading “PUF Away For Hardware Fingerprinting”

A Clock Timebase, No Microcontroller

Making an electronic clock is pretty easy here in 2023, with a microcontroller capable of delivering as many quartz-disciplined pulses as you’d like available for pennies. But how did engineers generate a timebase back in the old days, and how would you do it today? It’s a question [bicyclesonthemoon] is answering, with a driver for a former railway station clock.

The clock has a mechanism that expects pulses every minute, a +24V pulse on even minutes, and a -24V pulse on odd ones. He received a driver module with it, but for his own reasons wanted a controller without a microcontroller. He also wanted the timebase to be derived from the mains frequency. The result is a delve back into 1970s technology, and the type of project that’s now a pretty rare sight. Using a mixture of 4000 series logic and a few of the ubiquitous 555s [bicyclesonthemoon] recovers 50Hz pulses from the AC, and divides them down to 1 pulse per minute, before splitting into odd and even minutes to drive a pair of relays which in turn drive the clock. We like it, a lot.

Mains-locked clocks are less common than they used to be, but they’re still a thing. Do you still wake up to one?

Interlaken Want To Connect All The Chips

One of the problems with designing things on a chip is finding a good way to talk to the outside world. You may not design chips yourself, but you care because you want to connect your circuits — including other chips — to the chips in question. While I2C and SPI are common solutions, today’s circuits are looking for more bandwidth and higher speeds, and that’s where Interlaken comes in. [Comcores] has an interesting post on the technology that blends the best of SPI 4.2 and XAUI.

The interface is serial, as you might expect. It can provide both high-bandwidth and low-latency multi-channel communications. Interlaken was developed by Cisco and Cortina Systems in 2006 and has since been adopted by other industry-leading companies. Its latest generation supports speeds as high as 1.2 Tbps.

Continue reading “Interlaken Want To Connect All The Chips”