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Encryption for new computer memory

A breakthrough encryption technology developed by US scientists could remove a major roadblock

A breakthrough encryption technology developed by US scientists could remove a major roadblock in the adoption of non-volatile main memory for computers.

Because of its ability to retain information even when the system is switched off, non-volatile memory allows faster rebooting of machines and better data storage than conventional dynamic random access memory (DRAM).

However, one of the biggest concerns it raises is that sensitive information stored indefinitely on the chip could be accessed by criminals if the device - a PC, laptop or smartphone - is stolen.

Software encryption does not work for main memory data and hardware-encrypted machines can run very slow.

Now researchers at North Carolina State University say they have found a possible solution to the problem.

Yan Solihin, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, explained: "We could use hardware to encrypt everything. But then the system would run very slowly - because it would constantly be encrypting and decrypting data.

"Instead, we developed an algorithm to detect data that is likely not needed by the processor. This allows us to keep 78% of main memory encrypted during typical operation, and only slows the system's performance by 3.7%."

Copyright Press Association 2011

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