DPA workstation quizzes smart card safety

Cryptography Research Inc. will introduce its Differential Power Analysis (DPA) workstation on Monday, allowing customers to gauge the strength of smart cards and other cryptographic devices to prevent duplicity of secret key operations during power consumption activities.

Differential Power Analysis attacks can enable a perpetrator to extract secret keys and measure protected data from smart cards and secure cryptographic tokens by "eavesdropping" on microprocessor fluctuations in the amount of power a smart card is consuming. Once that information is uncovered, an intruder can gain access through a stolen identity, commit fraudulent transactions, or perform content piracy, said Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist of Cryptography Research.

Kocher said his security research company's first hardware product is aimed at three primary customers, the manufacturers of smart card devices, testing labs and academic researchers, and third parties that use smart cards and face risks if stored data is compromised. As smart cards become more widely accepted in the United States, he said interest to build tamper-resistant DPA attack features is increasing.

"We've done a lot of work with external monitoring of [DPA] attacks and security in general and kept getting response for customers that wanted to do [DPA] testing in-house," said Kocher.

During testing of a smart card commands, DPA workstation's cryptographic software will turn raw information into power consumption data to discover if correlated key information is detectable and where computation knowledge may be leaked out.

According to the Smart Card Alliance, more than 31 million smart cards shipped for use in the Untied States and Canada over the first half of 2002. That total more than doubles the amount from the same period last year.

DPA Workstation's technology is compliant with ISO7816 family of smart card standards and can be adapted for other cryptographic-ready items such as a USB token. The product supports Microsoft Windows.

DPA workstation is available now and costs between US$145,000 and US$200,000.