A little shot of PUF; Mobile World Congress 2012 #mwc12

Shot glass - Just like any other?

As I sit here on the Dublin to Barcelona flight I am thinking about the research we are demoing this week.  I’m a simple guy and I’m a sucker for a good story. In my recent round of induction chats one of my new colleagues at CSIT explained the genesis of the concept behind Physical Unclonable Function technology – one of the research areas we will be showcasing at Mobile World Congress.

It goes something like this. A bunch of researchers working on preventing smart cards being cloned are out at a bar one night. The mood is good and the craic is ninety.  They start drinking shots.  As the rounds go on the shot glasses are stacked up one on top of the other.

In theory the glasses are the same, designed and manufactured to be uniform in size and shape. In theory they should stack vertically in a straight line.  But they don’t. The glasses veer off at different angles like mini leaning towers of Pisa.

Even with the precision of a modern production line imperfections have crept into the manufacturing process. The glass has minor inconsistencies. The tooling on the machinery has varying tolerances. The result is that each glass has a unique fingerprint. Eureka!

Digital fingerprint

An so it is with smart cards and integrated circuits. They are developed with unbelievable precision at the nano-metre level. Even so, each chip is as unique as a fingerprint. The data they store may be cloned, but develop routines and algorithms around the variances of manufacture and its electronic signature which is as unique as a fingerprint and you are onto an unclonable technology that fits on a circuit the size of a piece of grit with a multitude of secure applications in RFID, NFC, contactless payments and mobile wallets.  That’s just a little of what we do at CSIT.

Is the story true? I don’t know, it may be a myth but it sure helped me grasp the concept of PUF. I’ll drink to that.

You can find out more about PUF in our capability brief here or chat to us at MWC in Hall 1 on the Northern Ireland Stand at location 1E38.