USAF Encryption Chip Ready for Production

By Staff Writer | October 4, 2017
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Image courtesy of Yuri Samoilov

The U.S. Air Force has a new chip called “Mini Crypto,” a self-contained encryption engine that generates its own session-based “key,” the service said. Mini Crypto would secure communications and data between systems while being “losable.”

“We think the Mini Crypto chip will really help forward-deployed warfighters secure sensors, or communications devices, in areas where risk of interception is high and still protect sensitive data without burdening folks on the front lines with extra equipment or steps to safeguard the encryption device,” said Heidi Beason, the Mini Crypto program manager at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Cryptologic and Cyber System Division at Joint Base-San Antonio, Texas.

The Air Force said the chip is a comparable size to a cracker and requires 400 milliwatts of power. This means it can be installed on equipment carried by one-person parties operating as scouts and forward air controllers. It works by establishing a key between sender and receiver, protecting up to secret data. Mini Crypto can also segregate data based on need-to-know.

“Communications devices all have a processor, where a message is formatted for transmission,” said Christopher Edsall, the Mini Crypto deputy program manager. “In the case of a computer, it’s the central processing unit. Mini Crypto is located after the processing center but before the transmission center, which is usually a radio. Another Mini Crypto chip is installed at the receiver end, after the receiving antenna, but before the CPU. The second Mini Crypto chip decrypts the received message as it comes through the radio where the unencrypted message is processed, and then it is displayed or heard.”

The Air Force said that according to Edsall, the encryption makes the effort of decrypting a message by an adversary difficult and resource-intensive. So by the time a message is readable by an adversary after it is encrypted, it is no longer useful information.

It took two years to develop the Mini Crypto, the Air Force said. It is now ready for production.

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