Researchers close the final loophole in device encryption with the power of nanotubes

ibm and academic researchers use carbon nanotubes for hardware encryption
Considering the size and semiconducting characteristics of carbon nanotubes, the prospect of using them to replace silicon is quite tempting. Unfortunately, there are a couple of known obstacles preventing that from being possible, at least for now. For those of us less scientifically informed, carbon nanotubes derive from random combinations of metallic and semiconducting nanotubes. As a result, when wiring up a processor, this makes the act of arranging them as needed an excessive engineering challenge.

But a team of researchers has leveraged the aforementioned obstructions to work in their favor. Instead of using carbon nanotubes to create a processor, the group discovered that they could produce cryptographic information by wiring up a section of a chip at random. This randomness lets the nanotubes serve as a means of on-chip, hardware-based encryption.

This is all carried out using a detergent called SDS, which pushes the nanotubes to a part of the chip marked with a positively charged substrate. Notably, this can only be achieved by varying the spacing of the elements in question, thereby preventing a disproportion between attraction and repulsion, and effectively making it possible to handpick just how many locations become populated with carbon nanotubes.

In manually setting the conditions, it’s possible to set a maximum percentage of gates occupied by a nanotube, but not possible to know ahead of time which ones will be occupied. That’s why it’s secure to use this technique as a means of generating an encryption key.

To demonstrate their breakthrough, the researchers built a 64-bit prototype and proved its ability to regularly generate similar keys while also confirming that the process was unaffected by environmental noise. Likewise, the researchers confirmed that over 99 percent of the time, the hardware will generate keys with more than half of their bits completely discernible from one another.

The researches say this technique is even impervious to any attempt to remove the chip from a device to read data bit-by-bit. Since the encryption system comes down to the hardware rather than the software, the processing chip itself would need to be imaged. Although theoretically possible, the researchers say that the chip’s construction makes any attempt to do so likely to destroy the chip entirely, and thus destroy the protected data.

“High-resolution imaging techniques such as electron microscope imaging cannot be used to analyse the bit information,” explain the authors in their write-up. “As the chip de-layering processes (to expose [the nanotubes]) involve harsh plasma etching.”

In doing so, it would close the one remaining loophole that might be used to attack a device with encryption, such as an iPhone, render devices truly secure against any known attack.

Product Review

Samsung’s Galaxy Book 2 is a Surface Pro alternative with one big advantage

The 2-in-1 form factor is clearly a big deciding factor for anyone looking to buy a new device, which is why Samsung is again getting in the action this year with the new Galaxy Book 2.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

Is the Pixelbook 2 still happening? Here's everything we know so far

What will the Pixelbook 2 be like? Has the Pixel Slate taken its place? Google hasn't announced it, but thanks to rumors and leaks, we think we have a pretty good idea of what the potential new flagship Chromebook will be like.

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Consider an extended warranty plan if you buy a Surface Pro 6

Though Microsoft offers a standard one-year warranty on the Surface Pro 6, consumers may want to purchase an extended warranty plan if they intend on keeping their tablet longer due to the device's low repairability score.

'World's best gaming processor'? We put Intel's new i9 through the ringer

Intel has launched the first Core i9 for the average gamer. Despite some controversies around its release, it’s the fastest gaming processor we’ve yet tested.

Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 vs. Google Pixelbook

Samsung's Chromebook Plus V2 attempts to answer the question: can you spend around half as much as on the premium Google Pixelbook and be happy that you saved some serious cash?

Protecting your PDF with a password isn't difficult. Just follow these steps

If you need to learn how to password protect a PDF, you have come to the right place. This guide will walk you through the process of protecting your documents step by step, whether you're running a MacOS or Windows machine.

Google Chrome 70 is finally getting a picture-in-picture mode

Picture-in-picture mode is finally coming to Google Chrome 70 on Mac, Linux, and Windows. The feature not only applies to YouTube but also any other website where developers have chosen to implement it.

Intel's 9th-gen chips could power your next rig. Here's what you need to know

The Intel Core i9-9900K processor was the star of the show for consumers, but a powerful 28-core Xeon processor also led announcements. Here's everything you need to know about the latest Intel chipsets.

Core i9s and Threadrippers are all powerful, but should you go AMD or Intel?

The battle for the top prosumer CPUs in the world is on. In this head to head, we pit the Core i9 versus the Threadripper to see which is the best when it comes to maximizing multi-core performance on a single chip.

Despite serious security flaws, D-Link will (again) not patch some routers

D-Link revealed that it won't patch six router models despite warnings raised by a security researcher. The manufacturer, for the second time in a span of about a year, cited end-of-life policies for its decision to not act.

Apple’s latest feature ensures MacOS apps are safer than ever

MacOS is mythically known for being more immune to viruses than Windows, but that doesn't mean there isn't room to make it safer. Apple is using an app notarization feature to protect users from downloading malicious apps.