IBM patent uses printed circuit boards to protect cryptographic codes

Big Blue's new patent aims to protect cryptographic keys and make them tamper-resistant.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer on

IBM has revealed a new patent which utilizes printed circuit boards to protect cryptographic keys and codes.

On Tuesday, the tech giant said the patent, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), uses printed circuit board (PCB) structure as the inspiration for a new method to protect cryptographic keys, required for encrypted communication.

IBM says the new method is "designed to be highly tamper-resistant."

The patent, US Patent 8,938,627, reads:

An arrangement for the protection of cryptographic keys and codes from being compromised by external tampering, wherein the arrangement is utilized within a multilayered securing structure. More particularly, there is provided a multilayered securing structure for the protection of cryptographic keys and codes, which may be subject to potential tampering when employed in computers and/or telecommunication systems.

A method is provided for producing such multilayered securing structures within a modular substrate with the intent to protect cryptographic keys and codes which are employed in computers and/or telecommunication systems from the dangers of potential tampering or unauthorized access.

IBM claims the invention could be used to help protect keys and codes that encrypt data in the cloud or in enterprise storage systems.

Traditionally, modules are encased in epoxy-like resin or plastic to prevent tampering, but this can potentially cause circuit board warping over time. The firm's designs do not require the extensive use of resin or other materials to encase modules which contain keys and codes.

Instead, PCB circuitry on layers is used to protect keys, while additional layers of the PCB or laminate structures act as physical barriers. This also means that the circuitry protecting the keys can be placed in random patterns or locations.

IBM says this can prompt a "significant" improvement in manufacturing yield, as well as a decrease in repairs needed in the field due to package reliability by reducing the number of materials required.

"At IBM, there are teams engaged in inventing and innovation on data protection and security which are fundamental cornerstones of our global digital future," said Stefano Oggioni, Engineering Manager of IBM Systems and co-inventor on the patent. "We had this in mind when creating this innovation."

Last week, the company announced IBM Z, a transaction system which can run over 12 billion encrypted transactions per day.

See also: The good and bad of Apple's security approach

On Monday, the tech giant launched a new security service designed for Internet of Things (IoT) developers and the automotive industry. The service tests the security of connected devices through development and deployment.

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