Electrical and Computer Engineering ETDs

Publication Date



Security mechanisms such as encryption, authentication, and feature activation depend on the integrity of embedded secret keys. Currently, this keying material is stored as digital bitstrings in non-volatile memory on FPGAs and ASICs. However, secrets stored this way are not secure against a determined adversary, who can use specialized probing attacks to uncover the secret. Furthermore, storing these pre-determined bitstrings suffers from the disadvantage of not being able to generate the key only when needed. Physical Unclonable Functions (PUFs) have emerged as a superior alternative to this. A PUF is an embedded Integrated Circuit (IC) structure that is designed to leverage random variations in physical parameters of on-chip components as the source of entropy for generating random and unique bitstrings. PUFs also incorporate an on-chip infrastructure for measuring and digitizing these variations in order to produce bitstrings. Additionally, PUFs are designed to reproduce a bitstring on-demand and therefore eliminate the need for on-chip storage. In this work, two novel PUFs are presented that leverage the random variations observed in the resistance of transistors. A thorough analysis of the randomness, uniqueness and stability characteristics of the bitstrings generated by these PUFs is presented. All results shown are based on an exhaustive testing of a set of 63 chips designed with numerous copies of the PUFs on each chip and fabricated in a 90nm nine-metal layer technology. An on-chip voltage-to-digital conversion technique is also presented and tested on the set of 63 chips. Statistical results of the bitstrings generated by the on-chip digitization technique are compared with that of the voltage-derived bitstrings to evaluate the efficacy of the digitization technique. One of the most important quality metrics of the PUF and the on-chip voltage-to-digital converter, the stability, is evaluated through a lengthy temperature-voltage testing over the range of -40C to +85C and voltage variations of +/- 10% of the nominal supply voltage. The stability of both the bitstrings and the underlying physical parameters is evaluated for the PUFs using the data collected from the hardware experiments and supported with software simulations conducted on the devices. Several novel techniques are proposed and successfully tested that address known issues related to instability of PUFs to changing temperature and voltage conditions, thus rendering our PUFs more resilient to these changing conditions faced in practical use. Lastly, an analysis of the stability to changing temperature and voltage variations of a third PUF that leverages random variations in the resistance of the metal wires in the power and ground grids of a chip is also presented.


Physical unclonable functions, cryptography, hardware security, authentication, temperature stability, bitstring

Document Type




Degree Name

Computer Engineering

Level of Degree


Department Name

Electrical and Computer Engineering

First Advisor

Plusquellic, Jim

First Committee Member (Chair)

Zarkesh-Ha, Payman

Second Committee Member

Fleddermann, Charles

Third Committee Member

Crandall, Jed