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Communications of the ACM


Thwarting Side-Channel Attacks

chip and radiating lines, illustration

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates, Shutterstock

The same attributes that give deep learning its ability to tell images apart are helping attackers break into the cryptoprocessors built into integrated circuits that were meant improve their security. The same technology may provide the tools that will let chip designers find effective countermeasures, but it faces an uphill struggle.

Side-channel attacks have been a concern for decades, as they have been used in the hacking of smartcard-based payment systems and pay-TV decoders, as well as in espionage. Yet the rise of Internet of Things (IoT) and edge systems and their use in large-scale, commercially sensitive applications makes such attacks a growing worry for chipmakers. The innate connectivity of IoT devices means success in obtaining private encryption keys from them may open up network access on cloud-based systems that rely on their data.


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