UMBC’s Naghmeh Karimi receives NSF CAREER Award to develop long-lasting security for cryptographic chips

Naghmeh Karimi is the most recent UMBC faculty member to receive a prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant, totaling approximately $500,000 over five years, will support her work to investigate how device-aging related risks compromise the security of cryptographic devices.

Karimi explains that cryptographic chips offer continued advances in authenticating messages and devices as well as preserving the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive information. They do so by implementing cryptographic algorithms in hardware. These chips combine the benefits of cryptographic applications with the speed and power advantage of hardware implementations. 

Despite their significant benefits, cryptographic chips can be compromised by adversaries who have gained physical access to the chips. Current protections against such attacks do not consider the aging of devices, which can shift device parameters over time.

Addressing security vulnerabilities 

Aging makes cryptographic chips operate slower and, ultimately, results in their malfunction, says Karimi. She explains that the typical lifetime of integrated circuits is 7 to 8 years. As the devices age, their performance decreases. Karimi is exploring the specific security vulnerabilities of aged devices and how they can be protected.

“We want to preserve the security of devices over their lifetime,” Karimi says.

Karimi and her research team will study whether the success of the side-channel analysis and fault-injection attacks increase in older devices. Karimi will create and test several countermeasures to protect devices against such attacks.

Connecting students with opportunities in tech security

The CAREER Award funding will support several UMBC undergraduate and graduate student researchers working with Karimi to develop long-lasting security solutions for hardware platforms. 

At the same time, Karimi will also develop and launch a new course in UMBC’s computer science and electrical engineering department on cryptography, hardware security, and testing. She will also work with the UMBC Cyber Scholars Program to connect students with internship opportunities focused on hardware security, to give them additional hands-on experience in the field. 

“The success of this project will enable us to develop long-lasting security for trusted hardware platforms,” Karimi says. “This will result in aging-resistant security solutions that benefit society through devices that remain secure over their lifetime.”

Banner image: UMBC’s ITE building. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.