Projects. LIFELINE

Temporal variability in integrated circuits: enemy (and how to fight it for the circular economy) and friend (and how to exploit it for a disruptive solution in cybersecurity)

Computing performance has been improving year-over-year in a wondrous evolution leading to the rise of a modern digital economy and society that require integrated circuits (ICs) to be more functional and reliable, safer, and more secure. Fields like IoT or Cybersecurity are thus now priorities in many research agendas. But early tremors have been arising that are indicative of larger shifts in how variability, culprit of a reliability loss in ICs, is addressed in the industry: if undealt with, ICs will no longer fulfil those capabilities of safety, security, and reliability.
A crucial challenge in this struggle is the ability to accurately predict the impact of said variability. Considerable past research exists but much more effort is needed to further deepen our understanding of variability and allow for yet more effective solutions to mitigate and handle its impact. Both, emerging markets (like autonomous driving, which necessitates enhanced reliability requirements for electronics to meet strict safety regulations and survive their required operational life) and consumer electronics (where minimizing costs is often a primary concern during design, thus superseding reliability concerns), are impacted as consequence. Moreover, recent developments like the movement towards e-waste reduction or the 2021 European Unions right-to repair legislation, will require manufacturers to ensure a decade of lifetime and supported repairs, which could put variability at the center of the stage. Finally, variability is essential to an important element in the digital transition: cybersecurity. When area and energy resources are scarce (as with wearable devices), adding security with conventional cryptography approaches is not viable, so lightweight cryptographic solutions have been developed, like those using the concept of Physical Unclonable Function (PUF), a hardware security primitive that exploits the intrinsic variability of CMOS manufacturing (time-zero variability or TZV) to ensure security in communications. However, stochastic effects such as Random Telegraph Noise (RTN) or aging, which introduce a timedependent variability (TDV) component, can seriously compromise not only the reliability of the PUF, but the security of data and communications as well.
The LIFELINE project sets its objectives considering the two sides of variability, foe and friend: foe, where its impact must be mitigated to improve reliability (with benefits like reduced global e-waste), and friend, where it can be exploited for cybersecurity and PUFs. In this latter facet, the project intends to explore a disruptive view: while traditionally TZV has been used as the entropy source to exploit, the project will investigate how to exploit RTN instead, with the benefit that RTN as the entropy source can potentially instill better reliability and immunity to aging to the ICs.
By dealing with variability mitigation (for which the project will develop accurate and stochastic TDV circuit simulation techniques) and exploitation (through new secure and reliable PUF using RTN), LIFELINE can contribute to the Ecological and Digital transitions at the same time: mitigation is perfectly in accord with requirements b) and e) of the environmental objective Transition towards a Circular Economy in the EU Taxonomy Regulation for Ecological Transition; working on exploiting TDV as underlying ingredient of PUFs for cybersecurity will promote the digital transition.
Project TED2021-131240B-I00 funded by MICIU/AEI /10.13039/501100011033 and European Union NextGenerationEU/ PRTR.

Principal Investigator

Rafael Castro López  >

Francisco V. Fernández Fernández  >

Project Details

  • Type: Research project
  • Funding Body: Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades
  • Reference: TED2021-131240B-I00
  • Start date: 01/12/2022
  • End date: 31/11/2024
  • Funding: 138.805,00 €