New hack-proof RFID chip could secure your credit cards

Researchers develop a new hack-proof chip that can secure your credit cards

A team of researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new type of radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that is virtually impossible to hack according to them. The chip if introduced by credit card companies will prevent your credit card number or key card information from being stolen.

The chip prevents so-called side-channel attacks, which analyses patterns of memory access or fluctuations in power usage when a device is performing a cryptographic operation, in order to extract its cryptographic key.

Chiraag Juvekar, graduate student in electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), explained what the new RFID chip does,

“The idea in a side-channel attack is that a given execution of the cryptographic algorithm only leaks a slight amount of information.” He added,”So you need to execute the cryptographic algorithm with the same secret many, many times to get enough leakage to extract a complete secret.”

According to MIT, this bolstered RFID chip would generate random numbers, producing a new secret cryptographic key with each transaction. A central server would then use the same random-number generator to keep up with the ever-changing keys.

Such a system would still, however, be vulnerable to a “power glitch” attack in which the RFID chip’s power would be repeatedly cut right before it changed its secret key. An attacker could then run the same side-channel attack thousands of times, with the same key.

Two design innovations allow the MIT researchers’ chip to thwart power-glitch attacks. One is an on-chip power supply whose connection to the chip circuitry would be virtually impossible to cut and the other is a set of “nonvolatile” memory cells that can store whatever data the chip is working on when it begins to lose power.

Juvekar and Anantha Chandrakasan, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and others used a special type of material known as a ferroelectric crystals for these features. Ferroelectric crystals are already used by big chip makers like Texas Instruments to produce nonvolatile memory or computer memory that retains data when it’s powered off.

The MIT research team has collaborated with Texas Instruments to built several prototypes of the new hack-proof RFID chip. They have already presented their research at the “International Solid-State Circuits Conference” held in San Francisco recently.

If the chips made by MIT researchers are commercially made,  it could mean that an identity thief could not steal credit card numbers or key card information, and high-tech burglars could not swipe expensive goods from a warehouse and replace them with dummy tags.

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