Nvidia's Jetson TX1 module. (Image courtesy of Nvidia).

Nvidia Licenses Security Hardware to Defend Against Car Hackers

Oct. 28, 2016
Nvidia is fortifying its graphics chips against hackers, making it harder for them to exploit idiosyncrasies in hardware.

Nvidia is fortifying its graphics chips against hackers, making it harder to exploit idiosyncrasies in hardware and break into devices ranging from smartphones, security cameras, and cars.

The company said this week that it had licensed technology to thwart digital attacks starting in computer circuits. During these types of attacks, hackers watch tiny variations in power consumption to help them guess at cryptographic keys, which grant access to important layers of software.

Nvidia licensed the technology from Rambus, a Sunnyvale, Calif. memory chipmaker that also provides cybersecurity tools. Some of its most popular products are designed to prevent hackers and counterfeiters from breaking into smart cards. The company has also signed licensing deals with Boeing and Xilinx.

The security deal is one of many announcements that stand out against the recent attack on Dyn DNS, a New Hampshire-based firm that controls some of the infrastructure of the internet. The hackers hijacked millions of connected cameras and other cheap devices in order to cripple websites in large parts of the United States.

Nvidia is not focused on the same types of devices, but the chipmaker is betting its graphics chips will become indispensable for virtual reality headsets, surveillance cameras, and corporate servers. It is also developing chips for autonomous cars, which are raising alarm among security experts concerned about hackers driving cars off the road.

The technology built by Rambus is designed to hedge against an attack known as differential power analysis. Like rapping your knuckles on a wall to find hollow spots, hackers watch a chip’s power consumption for clues about how to get inside. Similar attacks target electromagnetic noise.

The silver lining is that hackers need to have the device in their hands, measuring the power signals coming off the chip. That contrasts with more familiar flavors of hacking in which intruders search for weak points in software.

Nvidia did not say when the technology, which includes a combination of cryptographic hardware and software, would be used in its products.

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