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Security Now

photo: Lee W. LernerPhoto: Rob Felt

Researchers are working to ensure the security and trust of field programmable gate array devices

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are integrated circuits whose hardware can be reconfigured — even partially during run-time — enabling users to create their own customized, evolving microelectronic designs. They combine hardware performance and software flexibility so well that they’re increasingly used in aerospace, defense, consumer devices, high-performance computing, vehicles, medical devices, and other applications.

But these feature-rich devices come with potential vulnerabilities — the very configurability of an FPGA can be used to compromise its security. The slightest tweak, accidental or malicious, to the internal configuration of a programmable device can drastically affect its functionality. Conversely, when security and trust assurances can be established for these devices, they can provide increased, higher-performance resilience against cyberattacks than difficult-to-assure software-based protections.

A research team at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is studying a range of security challenges involving these devices.

“Because FPGAs are programmable and they tightly couple software and hardware interfaces, there’s concern they may introduce a whole new class of vulnerabilities compared to other microelectronic devices,” said Lee W. Lerner, a researcher who leads the GTRI team studying FPGA security. — RICK ROBINSON

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