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Internet of Things: Securing IoT Devices with Unique Hardware Fingerprints

By Dick Weisinger

A major roadblock to the successful scale up of the Internet of Things technology is security. The majority of the current generation of sensors and control devices attached to the internet are easily hackable.

One proposed solution is called PUF, physically unclonable function. It is a hardware-level digital fingerprint built into the circuits of the device. Changes in manufacturing can ensure that each device has a unique PUF signature. Attempts to tamper with the device without authorization will render the device useless. PUF can output a unique key/secret to support encryption/decryption, authentication and digital signatures.

Because PUF is inherent to the device circuitry, an advantage of the technology is that no additional chip or power requirements are needed for it to function.

Mike Dow, Engineer at Silcon Labs, said that “as an added layer of protection, a sophisticated tamper protection scheme can destroy the PUF reconstruction data if a tamper is detected. Once the reconstruction data is destroyed, the stored key material can never again be accessed. This effectively ‘bricks’ the device as no encryption algorithm can now be executed, preventing even a secure boot… Even if hackers invest considerable time and resources to reengineer the device, they have compromised only a single device.”

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