Researchers find inherent security flaws in FPGAs

May 24, 2019 //By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Researchers find inherent security flaws in FPGAs
Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are electronic components that can be used more flexibly than standard processors. They are also used in large data centers for cloud services. Until now, the use of such services has been considered relatively safe. But researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now found potential entrance gates for cyber-criminals.

Depending on their configuration, FPGAs can assume on almost any function of any other chip, which is why they are often used in the development of new devices or systems. "For example, FPGAs are used in the first product batch of new devices because they can be modified later - in contrast to an ASIC, whose expensive development is only worthwhile for very large quantities," says Dennis Gnad from the Institute of Computer Engineering (ITEC) at KIT.

These versatile components are used in a wide variety of applications such as smartphones, data networks, automotive electronics and aerospace. FPGAs consume comparatively little power, which is ideal for use in the server farms of cloud services. In addition, these programmable chips have another advantage: they can be divided up as required. "For example, one customer in a cloud context can use one segment of the FPGA, another the other," says Jonas Krautter, also from ITEC. This is an attractive usage scenario for cloud services. This includes, for example, tasks in the fields of databases, AI applications such as machine learning or financial applications.

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