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Random Light Patterns - A Novel Cyber Security Solution?

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US team develops new class of cybersecurity primitives around the structural randomness of 2D semiconductor MoS2

Researchers at New York University Tandon School of Engineering have developed a new class of unclonable cybersecurity security primitives using the high level of structural randomness in 2D MoS2 .

Randomness is highly desirable for constructing the security primitives that encrypt and thereby secure computer hardware and data physically, rather than by programming.

In a paper published in the journal ACS Nano ('Physically Unclonable Cryptographic Primitives by Chemical Vapor Deposition of Layered MoS2), Davood Shahrjerdi and his NYU Tandon team offer the first proof of complete spatial randomness in atomically thin MoS2.

The researchers grew the nanomaterial in layers. By varying the thickness of each layer, Shahrjerdi explained, they tuned the size and type of energy band structure, which in turn affects the properties of the material.

“At monolayer thickness, this material has the optical properties of a semiconductor that emits light, but at multilayer, the properties change, and the material no longer emits light. This property is unique to this material," he said.

By tuning the material growth process, the resulting thin film is speckled with randomly occurring regions that alternately emit or do not emit light. When exposed to light, this pattern translates into a one-of-a-kind authentication key that could secure hardware components at minimal cost.

Shahrjerdi said his team was pondering potential applications for what he described as the beautiful random light patterns of MoS2 when he realised it would be highly valuable as a cryptographic primitive.

This is though to represent the first physically unclonable security primitive created using this nanomaterial. Typically embedded in integrated circuits, physically unclonable security primitives protect or authenticate hardware or digital information. They interact with a stimulus - in this case, light - to produce a unique response that can serve as a cryptographic key or means of authentication.

The research team envisions a future in which similar nanomaterial-based security primitives can be inexpensively produced at scale and applied to a chip or other hardware component, much like a postage stamp to a letter. “No metal contacts are required, and production could take place independently of the chip fabrication process," Shahrjerdi said. “It’s maximum security with minimal investment."


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