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Press Release 14-125

Protecting our processors

NSF and SRC announce research awards to 10 universities to develop secure, trustworthy, assured and resilient semiconductors and systems

image of a test board for a computer


A side-channel attack evaluation board (SASEBO) used for tamper resistance research.
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September 23, 2014

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) today announced nine research awards to 10 universities totaling nearly $4 million under a joint program focused on Secure, Trustworthy, Assured and Resilient Semiconductors and Systems (STARSS).

The awards support research at the circuit, architecture and system levels on new strategies, methods and tools to decrease the likelihood of unintended behavior or access; increase resistance and resilience to tampering; and improve the ability to provide authentication throughout the supply chain and in the field.

"The processes and tools used to design and manufacture semiconductors ensure that the resulting product does what it is supposed to do. However, a key question that must also be addressed is whether the product does anything else, such as behaving in ways that are unintended or malicious," said Keith Marzullo, division director of NSF's Computer and Network Systems Division, which leads the NSF/SRC partnership on STARSS. "Through this partnership with SRC, we are pleased to focus on hardware and systems security research addressing this challenge and to provide a unique opportunity to facilitate the transition of this research into practical use."

NSF's involvement in STARSS is part of its Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) portfolio, which in August announced nearly $75 million in cybersecurity awards.

The STARRS program expands SRC's Trustworthy and Secure Semiconductors and Systems (T3S) program, engaging 10 universities across the U.S. Initial T3S industry participants are Freescale, Intel Corporation and Mentor Graphics. NSF is the first federal partner.

"The goal of SRC's T3S initiative is to develop cost-effective strategies and tools for the design and manufacture of chips and systems that are reliable, trustworthy and secure," said Celia Merzbacher, SRC vice president for innovative partnerships. "This includes designing for security and assurance at the outset so as to build in resistance and resilience to attack or tampering. The research enabled by the STARSS program with NSF is a cornerstone of this overall effort."

SRC is the world's leading university-research consortium for semiconductors and related technologies.

A number of trends are motivating industry and government to support research in hardware and system security. The design and manufacture of semiconductor circuits and systems requires many steps and involves the work of hundreds of engineers--typically distributed across multiple locations and organizations worldwide.

Moreover, a typical microprocessor is likely to include dozens of design modules from various sources. Designers at each level need assurance that the components being incorporated can be trusted in order for the final system to be trustworthy.

Today, the design and manufacture of semiconductor circuits and systems includes extensive verification and testing to ensure the final product does what it is intended to do. Similar approaches are needed to provide assurance that the product is authentic and does not allow unwanted functionality, access or control. This includes strategies, tools and methods at all stages, from architecture through manufacture and throughout the lifecycle of the product.

The first round of awards made through the STARSS program will support nine research projects with diverse areas of focus. They are:

A second joint NSF-SRC STARSS funding opportunity was announced on Aug. 13 as part of the latest NSF SaTC program solicitation. For more information, visit the NSF website.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Aaron Dubrow, NSF, (703) 292-4489, adubrow@nsf.gov
Dan Francisco, SRC, (916) 812-8814, dan@integrityglobal.biz

Program Contacts
Nina Amla, NSF, (703) 292-8910, namla@nsf.gov

Related Websites
Semiconductor Research Corporation: https://www.src.org/
Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace: Secure, Trustworthy, Assured and Resilient Semiconductors and Systems: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2014/nsf14528/nsf14528.htm

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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three scientists with computers and equipment in a lab
Scientists test and validate DC-DC converter chips in the laboratory.
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