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James F. Plusquellic, Ph.D.

JimHighResJames F. Plusquellic, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering
The University of New Mexico
Magic Dragon Technologies LLC (STC start-up)

Dr. Plusquellic has disclosed five inventions, has six pending patent applications, and has one license agreement with STC start-up Magic Dragon Technologies LLC for his hardware security technology. This technology uses a physically unclonable functions (PUFs), which is capable of producing random, but repeatable, bitstrings for applications such as device authentication and encryption. Although other PUF technologies have been proposed, all of them are based on measurements taken from transistors, and consequently do not perform well when the integrated circuit (IC) is exposed to important environmental variations such as changes in temperature. Dr. Plusquellic and his co-inventors’ technology is based on resistance variations that occur in the metal wires of an IC. Resistance is linear and predictable with changes in temperature and is therefore able to provide a stable and repeatable bitstring.

Many hardware security and trust mechanisms depend on the availability of a secret key bitstring. PUFs provides a secret key by leveraging manufacturing variations on the chip, in contrast to traditional mechanisms that require the manufacturer to ‘burn-in’ the key into a specialized non-volatile memory. In addition to simplifying the process of assigning a key to each chip and reducing cost by eliminating the need for a non-volatile memory, the PUF provides each chip with a secret key that even the manufacturer is not able to access. Moreover, non-volatile, memory-stored secret keys are subject to ‘invasive’ attacks, whereby the adversary physically probes and steals the key using test equipment. PUFs, on the other hand, store their secrets in manufacturing variations, i.e., they do not exist in digital form while the IC is powered off, and the subtle nature of these variations make it difficult or impossible for an adversary to probe them without altering and/or destroying the secret. Therefore, PUFs generate and store secrets in a more secure manner, which, in turn, improves the robustness of security-based applications that leverage them.

PUFs represent the next-generation of hardware security. They are resistant to spoofing, are volatile and non-replicable, and can be used to encrypt communication channels, protect against hardware piracy and malicious forms of hardware cloning and substitution. PUF technology gives the ‘good guys’ a big leg-up on building in robust security from the ground up. With more and more of society’s infrastructures for transportation, power generation, water, food, etc., going “on-line” and therefore becoming increasingly vulnerable to hardware hackers, unfriendly nation states and terrorist organizations, a big leg-up is exactly what we need!

Dr. Plusquellic’s research interests include IC trust, design for manufacturability, defect-based testing, small delay fault testing, model-to-hardware correlation, and process monitors.

UNM-Affiliated Pending Patent Applications

System and Methods for Generating Unclonable Security Keys in Integrated Circuits
System and Methods for Measuring Path Delays in a Circuit
System and Methods for Leveraging Resistance Variations in a Circuit and Converting Voltage Drops to Digital Code
System and Methods for Leveraging Path Delay Variations in a Circuit and Generating Error-tolerant Bitstrings
System and Methods for Analyzing Stability Using Metal Resistance Variations