Subthreshold circuits: Design, implementation and application

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Title: Subthreshold circuits: Design, implementation and application
Author: Kanitkar, Hrishikesh
Abstract: Digital circuits operating in the subthreshold region of the transistor are being used as an ideal option for ultra low power complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) design. The use of subthreshold circuit design in cryptographic systems is gaining importance as a counter measure to power analysis attacks. A power analysis attack is a non-invasive side channel attack in which the power consumption of the cryptographic system can be analyzed to retrieve the encrypted data. A number of techniques to increase the resistance to power attacks have been proposed at algorithmic and hardware levels, but these techniques suffer from large area and power overheads. The main aim of this research is to understand the viability of implementing subthreshold systems for cryptographic applications. Standard cell libraries in subthreshold are designed and a methodology to identify the minimum energy point, aspect ratio, frequency range and operating voltage for CMOS standard cells is defined. As scalar multiplication is the fundamental operation in elliptic curve cryptographic systems, a digit-level gaussian normal basis (GNB) multiplier is implemented using the aforementioned standard cells. A similar standard-cell library is designed for the multiplier to operate in the superthreshold regime. The subthreshold and superthreshold multipliers are then subjected to a differential power analysis attack. Power performance and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of both these systems are compared to evaluate the usefulness of the subthreshold design. The power consumption of the subthreshold multiplier is 4.554 uW, the speed of the multiplier is 65.1 KHz and the SNR is 40 dB. The superthreshold multiplier has a power consumption of 4.005 mW, the speed of the multiplier is 330 MHz and the SNR is 200 dB. Reduced power consumption, hence reduced SNR, increases the resistance of the subthreshold multiplier against power analysis attacks. (Refer to PDF for exact formulas).
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Date: 2008-02

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