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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X009602/1
Title: Hardware Security for Approximate Computing
Principal Investigator: GU, Dr C
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Qualcomm Thales Ltd
Department: Sch of Electronics, Elec Eng & Comp Sci
Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 October 2022 Ends: 31 March 2025 Value (£): 298,063
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Electronic Devices & Subsys. Fundamentals of Computing
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Electronics Information Technologies
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
04 Jul 2022 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel July 2022 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
As IBM's 2nm chip is pushing Moore's law approaching its limit, conventional computing techniques are struggling to offer high performance computing within power consumption constraints. Inspired by the fault tolerance capability of the human brain, approximate computing, which is error tolerant, can offer a huge reduction in computer power consumption without affecting the results (such as accuracy) of certain human perception and recognition related computation that only require a result to be approximate, rather than accurate. Examples include Artificial Intelligence (AI), Deep Learning (DL), image processing and even some cryptographic schemes.

However, approximate computing has been shown to have security vulnerabilities due to the unpredictability of intrinsic errors that may be indistinguishable from malicious modifications. Due to the inherent power and area savings achieved by approximate computing, security countermeasures shold also be lightweight ande efficient. Hence, the aim of this proposal is to use advanced hardware security techniques to enable the development of approximate computing technologies that have both optimal security protection and optimal system efficiency. Currently, no comprehensive research has been conducted to date into security of approximate computing or into countermeasures that protect such designs.

Physical unclonable function (PUF), as a lightweight hardware security primitive, is one of the best candidates for securing resource-constrained applications, such as approximate computing. A PUF can be used to generate a unique digital fingerprint for an electronic device based on manufacturing process variations of silicon chips. Currently, PUFs have been widely studied for conventional computing but no effective intrinsic PUF designs using approximate techniques have been presented.

This project is timely because approximate computing has rapidly attracted attention from both academica and industry, as it addresses one of the fundamental barriers in computing systems, power dissipation, but it has also opened new vectors of attacks. This project will develop an intrinsic PUF design based on the normal operations of an approximate processor without the need for addtional hardware resource. The project will aslo address for the first time how to achieve secure and effective approximate computing designs.

Thales UK, a leader in designing and building mission-critical information systems for the defence, security, aerospace, and transportation sections, has already invited the PI to join the Thales CyRes-Advance project to investigate security protection for connected and autonomous vechicles (CAVs) by considering hardware security. Thales will provide £250k in-kind support, such as technical advice/review of the hardware design, access to Thales CAV test platform and experimental validation for the project, to accelerate the research process and produce high-quality research outputs.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.qub.ac.uk