IBM builds security into microprocessor

IBM researchers develop encryption technology that can be built directly into a microprocessor.

IBM researchers have developed encryption technology that can be built directly into a microprocessor to help lock down data in mobile phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants), digital media players and other devices, the company said Monday.

IBM can customize the encryption technology, code-named Secure Blue, for use in consumer electronics, medical and government applications and digital media. For example, the technology can be tweaked to prevent against a mechanical attack, where someone tries to grind off the top of a chip, or a thermal attack, in which someone tries to melt a plastic lid, or to defend against x-ray attacks.

"If we're embedding this into a BlackBerry for example, which would go through baggage scanners, the client would probably choose not to implement the x-ray ability. You can customize where you want to put in the chip and which memory elements you want to protect and which you don't," said Tim Ravey, a vice president in IBM's Technology Collaboration Solutions division, in Armonk, New York.

The encryption technology requires a few extra circuits to be added to the microprocessor so it would increase surface area by a few percent, but IBM says the technology won't impede performance, said Ravey.

IBM is building the technology into its Power processor, but says the technology will also work in processors from other chip makers.

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