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There is now a new way to protect data, especially when it is subjected to extreme environmental conditions.

Traditional methods of protecting data involve installing software, but that can require frequent updates and large amounts of power.

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As a result, experts have proposed alternative security methods based on hardware.

The financial loss from cybercrime in the U.S. was over $1.3 billion in 2016, according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. As this number is only expected to rise in the upcoming years, the military, businesses and individuals are seeking new ways to guard their information.

Cyber Security

That is where physical unclonable function (PUF) devices hold promise. Random physical variations occur as this type of hardware is fabricated, which creates a unique structure impossible to copy or clone. But current PUFs are sensitive to harsh environments, making them a bad choice for military or outside use.

So Yang-Kyu Choi and fellow team members, Kyu-Man Hwang, Jun-Young Park, Hagyoul Bae, Seung-Wook Lee, Choong-Ki Kim, Myungsoo Seo, Hwon Im, Do-Hyun Kim, Seong-Yeon Kim, and Geon-Beom Lee, all from the School of Electrical Engineering, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), wanted to make new PUF hardware that would overcome this challenge.

They were able to design a PUF based on nano-electro mechanical switches (NEMs), which see use in circuits and are known for their low power consumption. A nanowire in the contraption floats between two gates. As the liquid used in the fabrication process naturally evaporates, the wire bends and adheres to one of the gates. Depending on which gate the nanowire is touching, a 0 or a 1 is generated.

An array of several gates and nanowires can create an unpredictable, unique code. The NEM-PUF withstood exposure to high temperatures, microwaves and high-dose radiation. In the case of a data breach, it can self-destruct, providing an additional layer of security. 

Click here to view the abstract that accompanies a paper on the subject from the American Chemical Society.

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