Electronic Design

Elliptical Curve Cryptography Targets Tiny 8-Bit Nodes

Certicom Security for Sensor Networks looks to handle security for not dozens but hundreds to thousands of nodes in a distributed wireless network. The key (pun intended) is Elliptical curve cryptography (ECC) that requires significantly fewer key bits than other public key cryptography methods for the same level of security. A 163-bit ECC key is comparable to a 1-kbit RSA key. ECC is critical for environments like ZigBee/802.15.4 that tend to be populated by hundreds or thousands of 8-bit microcontrollers.

Certicom's offering addresses hardware and software implementations. The former has lower power requirements while providing higher throughput. The latter doubles the ZigBee stack memory (20 kbytes) overhead. Still, both fit nicely into the microcontrollers on the market today. Certicom's application programming interface (API) makes hardware or software support transparent to applications.

ECC's use in public key authentication lets nodes maintain a minimal number of keys to facilitate network communication. Nodes can be uniquely identified and authenticated using a single key. Certicom's support helps with key distribution and management. ECC typically will be used for authentication at the application level. Symmetrical key support like AES will be used if data-stream encryption is required by the application. Security support is quickly becoming a requirement.


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