Embedded Non-Volatile Memory (eNVM): An Effective Secure Storage Solution

By WPG AmericasJune 21, 2016

In this era of data explosion, security of electronic devices is gaining importance like never before. Digital consumers, IoT device manufacturers, designers and developers are going extremes to ensure their devices are safe and secure. The need for secure devices is even greater with the Internet of Things (IoT) increasingly becoming a part of our everyday lives. Recent research by Hewlett-Packard has revealed thtat 70% of IoT devices currently in place are vulnerable to security threats and breaches.

Why Embedded Non-Volatile Memory (eNVM) is Imperative in Today’s IoT Framework

The major breach at Target stores back in 2013 shocked security experts to the core. The crack in the system resulted in 40-millions credit card records being stolen by hackers, who obtained unauthorized access into the retailer’s network, using credentials stolen from a heating, ventilation and air conditioning vendor that had access to Target’s IT network. The impact of the breach was enormous:

  • $200 million in costs related to the data breach
  • 475 layoffs linked to the lost business
  • $100 million in technology update
  • The chief information officer (CIO) was replaced

In a more threatening scenario, hackers struck a steel mill in Germany earlier this year. In what may seem like a scene straight out of a movie, the hackers stalled the entire control systems of the mill to such extent that the blast furnace could not be properly shut down. The infiltration using a phishing scam resulted in massive damage.

How to Put an End to Hacks with Embedded Non-Volatile Memory (eNVM)?

IoT device manufacturers are aware that their chip designers are not security experts, therefore both on the software and the hardware front, it’s not an easy task to secure and protect a software IP from being hacked. However, all experts in this field agree that there has to be an evolving solution to secure these devices without compromising core functionalities such as power management. As part of the solution, more and more device manufacturers are increasingly optimistic about embedded memories, to keep away hackers and thieves from accessing their system.

Basic Modus Operandi and Variants of Embedded Non-Volatile Memory (eNVM)

Embedded non-volatile memory (eNVM) is a configurable, embedded on-chip component, which efficiently reduce costs, improve performance and enable highly secure storage. It is available in various formats, such as embedded flash, electrical fuses, multi-time programmable (MTP), and one-time programmable (OTP). Nevertheless, antifuse one-time programmable (OTP), is the most secure eNVM with the best-in-class security and lower active and standby power.

What can IoT Device Manufacturers Expect from Embedded Non-Volatile memory (eNVM)?

The antifuse eNVM cannot be breached because of its protective layer. It’s impossible for an intruder to hack the system using a passive, semi-invasive or invasive methods. Passive hacking techniques fail because the eNVM’s bitcell current for “0” and “1” is smaller than the current required for sensing, or operating peripheral circuits to read the memory. This specifically makes the eNVM unbreachable, as the hacker can’t determine the pattern of word being read.

In a secured eNVM environment, invasive techniques, including backside attacks, or SEM passive voltage contrast, have also proved to be unsuccessful because it is practically impossible to isolate the bitcell for its disarranged connection in a cross point array. Furthermore, it difficult to determine which bit is programmed, by using chemical etching, mechanical polishing, or by looking at a cross-section or top view.

Today, demand for eNVM storage is surging because the information programmed into an antifuse bit cell provides enhanced physical security that makes the system impenetrable. The Target hack and countess other security breaches have brought the crucial need for security to the forefront, and the need for security must stay high priority until our information, and our clients’ information, is safe. Using an eNVM is one answer to the problem.