New Horizons for Chip Design


NIST Validates Synopsys Cryptography IP Software Library

Chip designers can use Synopsys technology to accelerate Cryptographic Module Validation Program (CMVP) and Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 certification for applications requiring high levels of security. FIPS 140-2 validation is only required if a hardware security module is to be sold to the U.S. government and if it uses cryptography in a security system that handles sensitive but unclassified information. However, it can also be a powerful security product differentiator in the commercial market.

“The need for increased cybersecurity has been recognized industry wide, requiring advanced security solutions to protect against growing vulnerabilities,” said John Koeter, vice president of marketing for IP at Synopsys. “Security needs to be addressed at all levels, from the SoC to the software applications. By using DesignWare Cryptography Software Libraries that have been validated by NIST CAVP, designers can be confident that the functions will operate as expected to help them meet the most stringent FIPS certification criteria for their application.”

FIPS 140-2 coordinates the requirements and standards for cryptography modules that include both hardware and software components. To be validated, software and hardware must first be tested by one of 13 designated labs nationwide and the resulting validation is very specific to the firmware, chipset, and version of software tested. Variations on the product are not validated unless tested as well. Any revision to the validated software or hardware requires retesting.

Some organizations may take a shortcut and simply say they are FIPS 140-2 compliant instead. “Compliant” means only some of the product has been FIPS validated. Some products on the market might contain third-party FIPS validated software and components, but the overall product is not FIPS validated.

FIPS 140-2 defines four levels of security for a hardware security module. A product that has been validated will typically say FIPS 140-2 Level 2, for example. The individual levels are defined as:

Level 1 is the lowest level of security. It covers only the minimum for cryptographic modules such as one approved algorithm or one approved security function. There is no specific requirement for physical security at this level. An example might be a personal computer encryption board.

Level 2 addresses the physical mechanisms of a Level 1 cryptographic module. It requires that features show evidence of tampering, including tamper-evident coatings or seals that must be broken to attain physical access to the plain text cryptographic keys and critical security parameters (CSPs) within the module, or pick-resistant locks on covers or doors to protect against unauthorized physical access.

Level 3 attempts to prevent an intruder from gaining access to the CSPs. The physical security mechanisms may include the use of strong enclosures and tamper-detection/response circuitry that zeroes all plain text CSPs when the removable covers/doors of the cryptographic module are opened.

Level 4 is the highest level of security. At this level, the physical security mechanisms provide a complete envelope of protection around the cryptographic module with the intent of detecting and responding to all unauthorized attempts at physical access. Penetration of the cryptographic module enclosure from any direction has a very high probability of being detected, resulting in the immediate deletion of all plain text CSPs.

Level 4 also protects a cryptographic module against a security compromise due to environmental conditions or fluctuations outside of the module’s normal operating ranges for voltage and temperature. Intentional excursions beyond the normal operating ranges may be used by an attacker to thwart a cryptographic module’s defenses.

FIPS 140-2 was first published on May 25, 2001. It was last updated on December 3, 2002. Rumors have been circulating about an update, which would be 140-3, however, the most recent draft of such a document was abandoned in 2013. A 2014 draft suggested a new direction, that instead of FIPS 140-2, the new standard would use the International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/IEC) standard, 19790:2012. That proposal has also been abandoned.

The Synopsys IP Cryptography Software Library is available for DesignWare ARC EM, ARC HS, ARM and x86 processor platforms