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Hardware Security in the Cloud

Some time back, we covered “physically unclonable functions,” or PUFs. These are techniques for deriving a key from the random characteristics of a specific piece of hardware, making it unique to that hardware and therefore unclonable by others. One of the companies covered was Intrinsic ID.

Intrinsic ID has now taken a step to make what is otherwise a low-level wonky technology available at the consumer and corporate level. They have created a cloud portal where data can be stored securely, accessible only by your computer or a computer with which you share your key.

The portal is called Saturnus, and it allows the uploading (and downloading) of any type of file. The key – so to speak – to how it works is in the security. And therein lies also a hitch, for the time being.

The system works with computers having “HIS” – Hardware Intrinsic Security. This is Intrinsic ID’s hardware key system that relies on the random state of SRAM when the system boots up. The bad news: your computer probably doesn’t have HIS on it. The good news: Intrinsic ID says that they have investigated a wide range of devices – computers, phones, etc. – and have found that all can have HIS installed; it’s not something that has to be factory-built. More good news: you’ll be able to purchase HIS for your systems. The bad news: it’s not available yet.

With HIS, you get a key that only resides on your machine. You can share that key with other systems so that only machines you’ve shared with can access your Saturnus account. So, for instance, you could have your desktop, laptop, and phone set up to get to your secured goods. You can also use random computers in cafes if you have a dongle containing the HIS information. (Just remember to take it out of the computer when you’re done.)

This launch seems somewhat premature in that no one can use Saturnus without HIS, which isn’t for sale yet. Likewise, I don’t have a good sense that the dongle solution actually exists today. The statement “You can do this” can often mean one of two things: “You can do this (today with product on the shelf)” or “You can (theoretically) do this (once someone actually develops the idea into a product).” My sense was this is a bit more of the latter than the former. But it will be an interesting approach once all the pieces are in place.

You can find more in their release

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