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New transistor design disguises key computer chip hardware from hackers

A hacker can reproduce a circuit on a chip by discovering what key transistors are doing in a circuit—but not if the transistor "type" is undetectable.

Purdue University engineers have demonstrated a way to disguise which transistor is which by building them out of a sheet-like material called black phosphorus. This built-in security measure would prevent hackers from getting enough information about the circuit to reverse engineer it.

Reverse engineering chips is a common practice—both for hackers and companies investigating intellectual property infringement. Researchers also are developing X-ray imaging techniques that wouldn't require actually touching a chip to reverse engineer it.

The approach that Purdue researchers have demonstrated would increase security on a more fundamental level. How chip manufacturers choose to make this transistor design compatible with their processes would determine the availability of this level of security.

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