Researchers use natural silk fibers to generate secure keys for strong authentication

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A group of academics from South Korea’s Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) have used natural silk fibers from domesticated silkworms to build an environmentally friendly digital security system that they say , is “virtually inviolable”.

“The first unclonable natural physical function (PUF) […] leverages the diffraction of light through natural microholes in native silk to create a secure and unique digital key for future security solutions,” the researchers said.

Physical Unclonable Functions or PUFs refer to devices that take advantage of the inherent randomness and microscopic differences in electronics introduced during manufacturing to generate a unique identifier (e.g., cryptographic keys) for a given set of data. entries and conditions.

cyber security

In other words, PUFs are non-algorithmic one-way functions derived from non-copyable elements to create unbreakable identifiers for strong authentication. Over the years, PUFs have been widely used in smart cards to provide “silicon fingerprints” as a means of uniquely identifying cardholders based on a challenge-based authentication scheme. answer.

The new method proposed by GIST uses native silk fibers produced by silkworms to create PUF-based tags which are then used to design a PUF module. This mechanism is based on the underlying principle that a light beam undergoes diffraction when it encounters an obstacle, in this case the silk fiber.

“[T]The nanofibrillar structures of each microfiber greatly enhance the light intensity contrast between background and focal points due to strong scattering,” the researchers noted in a paper published in Nature Communications. “These new optical characteristics could easily implement the modulus of a lens. free optical PUF by placing a silk ID card over the image sensor.”

cyber security

The captured diffracted light is unique, “giving rise to a unique light pattern”, which is then converted into a digital format and fed into the system as an input, said study researcher and author Young Min Song. .

If such a system were to be deployed for user authentication using a smart card, the researchers said that simulating an authentication key generated from the module via a brute force attack would take up to 5×1041 years to crack it, making it cryptographically unbreakable.

“To our knowledge, this is the first PUF module engineered from silk, a naturally abundant biomaterial,” Professor Yong said in a statement. “This means we don’t need to invest time in developing complicated security keys, nature has already done that for us.”

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