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Communications of the ACM


Researchers Probe Security Through Obscurity

encryption, illustration

Credit: Information Security Buzz

An attempt to build a way of preventing the reverse engineering of software has led to an explosion of ideas that could reshape the world of cryptography, even though the core objective of hiding the way software operates may prove to be too difficult to achieve practically.

Companies would like to protect the intellectual property stored in their software by hiding the way it operates. One option is to use encryption to scramble the code stored in nonvolatile memory so it only appears as plain text when decrypted, ready for execution. Some embedded processors now have on-chip decryption engines to avoid actual program instructions appearing on the memory bus, so the machine instructions cannot be intercepted by a hacker armed with a logic analyzer. Yet there is still the potential for attackers to use techniques such as side-channel analysis to recover and use the actual encryption key.


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