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Know-How Protection for Trustworthy Electronics

Our lives will be increasingly influenced by electronic components in the future – e.g. in self-driving cars or service robots. In order to trust said components, the government is funding scientific projects as part of a flagship initiative. The Computer Architecture working group is involved.

The goal of the flagship initiative “Trustworthy Electronics” (“Vertrauenswürdige Elektronik”), which is being funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), is the research into and development of new methods, solutions, and processes, that range from design to production, analysis, and assessment. The aim of the “CirroStrato” project is to research the implementation of so-called reconfigurable transistors that serve the purpose of protecting intellectual property of chip layouts. The Computer Architecture working group (AGRA) at the University of Bremen is led by Professor Rolf Drechsler and carries out central tasks surrounding testing and verification of the new security mechanisms.

“Electronic devices such as cell phones or autonomous vehicles require there to be trustworthy electronic components. In times of long international value chains, this is a constant challenge,” explains Rolf Drechsler. Thus, electronic components must be effectively protected against know-how theft without incurring high additional costs, restricting the performance capabilities, or event endangering the correct functionality of the resulting electronic components.

Reliable Tests and Complete Verification Are Important

On these grounds, the highly complex, automated design process for regular circuit technology needs to be amended effectively so that trustworthy analyses – thus testing and verification – can take place before the final electronic components are fed into the entire system. “These processes need high-performance algorithms that enable a full analysis and take all possible circumstances into consideration in order to ensure the secure functionality of each component after successful assessment,” says Drechsler. This requires methods that implement formal techniques and for which effective modelling plays a key role.

AGRA at the University of Bremen and four other partners are developing novel protection mechanisms for intellectual property protection in electronic components as part of the CirroStrato research network. The project partners Nanoelectronics Material Laboratory (NaMLab) gGmbH (as network coordinator), GLOBALFOUNDRIES LLC & Co. KG, TU Dresden, and NXP Seminconductors Germany GmbH (as an associated partner) are basing their work on the new technology that is reconfigurable field-effect transistors (RFETs).

Exposing and Fighting Plagiarism

Based on this technology, the CirroStrato project network is researching and developing an automatic design process for RFET-based technologies, which will make it possible to integrate new protection mechanisms in electronics. These mechanisms are to expose the functionality of electronic components and thus fight against possible plagiarism. This is to create a more secure and trustworthy value chain that significantly contributes to Germany’s authority in terms of technology.

On the one hand, the developments are to show viability and effectivity. On the other hand, they form the basis for possible certification. When taking the example of creating a chip, the new process is tested and tested in terms of security with the help of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). The Bremen working groups is the central link between manufacturing and the certification of RFET-based security mechanisms.

AGRA Responsible for Quality Assurance

Professor Drechsler’s team is responsible for quality assurance in the project and is developing new testing and verification methods for the automatic design process of these new RFET technologies. Only these methods make production of security mechanisms that implement the planned protection function possible. Due to the high level of expertise in this field, AGRA is responsible for this task within the project. Furthermore, the researchers at the University of Bremen are global leaders in this area. The Bremen scientists are making use of previous research on test generation, formal verification, and the application of formal modelling techniques.

A great deal of this work was already positively received in specialist circles and led to more than 20 publications in the past years – including at the top conferences for circuit testing, such as the European Test Symposium (ETS) and the Design Automation and Test in Europe (DATE). Several of the papers were developed by Dr. Sebastian Huhn, who will take on the role of deputy project leader in CirroStrato.

More than Half a Million for AGRA Team

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the CirroStrato project with 2.11 million euros over three years as part of the flagship initiative “Trustworthy Electronics.” AGRA at the University of Bremen will receive more than half a million euros.

About the project name: CirroStrato is the Italian word for “CirroStratus,” which is the meteorological term for a veil cloud. This analogy to the veil cloud references the “concealment” of the circuit by means of the protective mechanisms that are to be developed and which will lie over the circuit like a cloud and stop potential exposure.

Further Information: (press release on BMBF flagship initiative “Trustworthy Electronics” – in German only) (information on the CirroStrato project – in German only) (Computer Architecture working group)


Prof. Dr. Rolf Drechsler
Computer Architecture Working Group
Faculty of Mathematics / Computer Science
University of Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-63932
Email: drechslerprotect me ?!uni-bremenprotect me ?!.de


Electronics must be trustworthy: The Computer Architecture working group at the University of Bremen is part of a project that has this as its aim.