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Nanoscale Random Number Circuit to Secure Future Chips

By Technology Review

June 30, 2010

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Intel engineers have created computer processors with circuits capable of random behavior, a development that could lead to secure cryptography keys. Building a random number generator into the central processing unit (CPU) should accelerate any process that requires the generation of an encrypted key, says Intel's Ram Krishnamurthy.

"Today random numbers are either generated in software, or in the chip set outside the microprocessor," Krishnamurthy says, neither of which produces actually random numbers. "If the random numbers are not truly random, for example, if they are biased in some way, then an adversary has a better chance of guessing/determining the value," says National Institute of Standards and Technology's Elaine Barker.

Intel's circuit has an all-digital design, making it possible to incorporate it into the microprocessor die. The design features a cross-coupled inverter—a combination of two basic circuit components that is essentially a memory component capable of storing a single 1 or 0. However, the memory component is designed to be unreliable. It can be tipped between its two possible outputs by the influence of thermal noise from the surrounding silicon, a process that produces random output.

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