Targhetta, Andrew David (2015-05). The Design Space of Ultra-low Energy Asymmetric Cryptography. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • The energy cost of asymmetric cryptography, a vital component of modern secure communications, inhibits its wide spread adoption within the ultra-low energy regimes such as Implantable Medical Devices (IMDs), Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs), and Radio Frequency Identification tags (RFIDs). In literature, a plethora of hardware and software acceleration techniques exists for improving the performance of asymmetric cryptography. However, very little attention has been focused on the energy efficiency. Therefore, in this dissertation, I explore the design space thoroughly, evaluating proposed hardware acceleration techniques in terms of energy cost and showing how effective they are at reducing the energy per cryptographic operation. To do so, I estimate the energy consumption for six different hardware/software configurations across five levels of security, including both GF(p) and GF(2^m) computation. First, we design and evaluate an efficient baseline architecture for pure software-based cryptography, which is centered around a pipelined RISC processor with 256KB of program ROM and 16KB of RAM. Then, we augment our processor design with simple, yet beneficial instruction set extensions for GF(p) computation and evaluate the improvement in terms of energy per cryptographic operation compared to the baseline microarchitecture. While examining the energy breakdown of the system, it became clear that fetching instructions from program memory was contributing significantly to the overall energy consumption. Thus, we implement a parameterizable instruction cache and simulate various configurations. We determine that for our working set, the energy-optimal instruction cache is 4KB, providing a 25% energy improvement over the baseline architecture for a 192-bit key-size. Next, we introduce a reconfigurable GF(p) accelerator to our microarchitecture and mea sure the energy per operation against the baseline and the ISA extensions. For ISA extensions, we show between 1.32 and 1.45 factor improvement in energy efficiency over baseline, while for full acceleration we demonstrate a 5.17 to 6.34 factor improvement. Continuing towards greater efficiency, we investigate the energy efficiency of different arithmetic by first adding GF(2^m) instruction set extensions to our processor architecture and comparing them to their GF(p) counterpart. Finally, we design a non-configurable 163-bit GF(2^m) accelerator and perform some initial energy estimates, comparing them with our prior work. In the end, we discuss our ongoing research and make suggestions for future work. The work presented here, along with proposed future work, will aid in bringing asymmetric cryptography within reach of ultra-low energy devices.

publication date

  • May 2015