Tamper Protection for Electronic Systems

In the age of digitalization, protecting electronic systems from manipulation and unauthorized access becomes increasingly important. Only if the security of data is guaranteed, IoT applications will be accepted on a broad scale. This is where hardware-based tamper protection for electronic systems is called into action: After all, software-based solutions are often not sufficient to protect sensitive data in electronic systems, e.g. in the environment of banking, smart grid/smart metering, when handling patient data or operating critical infrastructures. 

Tamper protection foil for electronic systems
© Fraunhofer EMFT / Bernd Müller
Tamper protection foil for electronic systems

Compared to pure IT systems, embedded systems are not only exposed to software attacks, but can also be directly attacked physically when used in non-controlled environments. The range extends from manipulated electricity meters or medical devices to tuned high-speed cars or modified truck tachographs with manipulated driving times to pirated games in game consoles. Less visible but highly relevant are control systems in infrastructure and industry or the communication infrastructure in the administrative or banking sector. What all these applications have in common is that protective measures must be supplemented at the hardware system level to ensure the security of interaction and control of multiple chips. So-called hardware security modules (HSM), which are equipped with a special anti-tamper foil, are used for this purpose.

Key generation with Physical Unclonable Functions (PUF)

Together with Fraunhofer AISEC and Fraunhofer IMS, Fraunhofer EMFT is developing hardware-based solutions for tamper protection of electronic systems, based on sensors and so called Physical Unclonable Functions (PUF). One possibility is to derive cryptographic keys from the unique physical properties of a chip or a module, thus generating the keys based on the physical characteristics. As soon as these properties change - which is evitably the case whenever a tampering attempt takes place - the key ceases to function. 

Improved Tamper Protection with Flexible Electronics

In several internal projects, Fraunhofer EMFT has initiated research into the basic technologies for next-generation tamper protection films. Compared to the state of the art, these novel tamper protection films are produced using lithographic processes in roll-to-roll. This simultaneously allows for an increased level of security that meets the most modern tamper-evident requirements, as well as potentially very low-cost manufacturing methods that can help address a broader market.  Technology demonstrators have been manufactured as part of this preliminary work, as well as a comprehensive IP portfolio developed to offer the technology to industrial customers. The basic and patented technology could also be adapted to specific customer requirements.

These competences in the area of tamper protection for electronic systems are available at Fraunhofer EMFT for your application topics. We look forward to hearing from you!

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