A new technology to secure integrated systems and circuits

The Laboratoire d’informatique, de robotique et de microélectronique de Montpellier (LIRMM) (CNRS/Université Montpellier 2) has recently developed a new technology capable of reducing data leakage from integrated circuits during electronic transactions by up to 95% in comparison with conventional logic circuits. The technology is currently the subject of a collaboration between LIRMM and PSI Electronics, a company that specializes in designing integrated circuits and systems(1), with a view to technology transfer.

Now that hardware attacks(2) have become widespread, crytpology(3) has become an essential part of the design of digital systems that replace paper as information storage media. Such attacks affect the hardware components where programs are executed (such as chips, microprocessors, etc). They are recognized as being the most dangerous kind of attack, since they can be used to obtain, at little cost and without much skill, the keys of encryption algorithms, such as those used in smart cards.

The new logic developed by LIRMM (Secure Triple Track Logic, STTL) is highly effective against hardware attacks and piracy of the integrated circuits in smart cards, SIM cards, processors, etc, that require both data authentication and confidentiality. It enables data leakage from integrated circuits to be reduced by up to 95% in comparison with conventional logic circuits. It does this thanks to two distinctive features: it has constant computation time and keeps the circuit’s power consumption regular, two recurrent flaws during hardware attacks which until now had not been overcome.

LIRMM and PSI Electronics are working in partnership towards a transfer to industry of this new technology which originated in the research laboratory. It will be used in the design of integrated circuits and systems. PSI, which is based in the Aix-en-Provence region, has already developed an initial components library(4) which should allow rapid validation on an industrial scale, thus completing its specific competence in secure integrated circuit design.

This work, initially developed at LIRMM, has been carried out for two years as part of the CALISSON(5) project (the French acronym for ’Characterization, Modeling, and Security Specifications of integrated prototype circuits’), funded by the French Ministry of Industry, and approved by the global SCS Competitiveness Cluster in June 2006. As well as PSI, CALISSON’s other industrial partners are STMicroelectronics, Gemalto (who manufacture bank cards), and Atmel (who make integrated circuit components), as well as academic partners such as ParisTech, the Ecole des Mines in St Etienne (ENSME), and the French Atomic Energy Agency (CEA).


1) Integrated circuits are made up of components or transistors several hundreds of nanometers in size. They are found in smart cards, computer processors, the SIM cards in cell phones, etc. They are used for processing and for computing, video and multimedia applications. All modern communication is dependent on integrated circuits.
2) Hardware attacks, also called ’side channel attacks’, are different from software attacks.
3) A technique whereby a message is encrypted in order to make it unintelligible to anyone who does not have the decryption key.
4) Using STTL logic, the LIRMM researchers have developed the framework for a collection of small components (which carry out basic functions), which will be developed and sold to industry by PSI.
5) With support from the SCS Cluster, the CALISSON project has obtained results which are sure to find promising industrial applications (banking transactions, the smart card business, set-top boxes, etc. Decoding devices for pay-TV channels and wifi modems (integrated circuits are central to such devices)).
6) Secured Communicating Solutions.