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RFID Startup Offers Enhanced Security for Tag Chips

Verayo is a startup whose product creates a unique digital signature for RFID chips based on how current flows through them. The company is focusing on creating clone-resistant RFID tags to support authentication applications.
Sep 02, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

September 2, 2008—Verayo is a new company that formed in Palo Alto, California to commercialize technology it says can make RFID chips unclonable. Verayo produces small electronic circuits, called PUFs (which is pronounced "puffs" and stands for Physically Unclonable Functions) that are applied to other integrated circuits. PUFs take advantage of slight inconsistencies in how ICs are produced to create a unique digital signature for each chip.

"There is a slight difference between your Pentium chip and my Pentium chip, even if they were produced next to each other in the fab," Vivek Khandelwal, Verayo's director of marketing, told RFID Update while explaining the technology. "PUFs are tiny electronic circuits, that when they are embedded in the silicon, take advantage of these variations."

PUFs capture the unique fingerprint of each chip by sending current through the circuit and measuring the path it takes. Verayo's technology uses the measurement data to create a 64-bit challenge that is unique to the chip. Readers issue the challenge and compare the response to authenticate the chip. Copying a valid response from one chip to another would not authenticate the cloned chip to the reader, because the response is generated with the PUF circuit and is unique to each chip. Special readers are not needed to process PUF-enabled RFID chips, but currently installed readers would require a firmware upgrade, Khandelwal said.

PUF technology could be applied to any type of chip or anything with a "digital heartbeat" according to Khandelwal, but the company is focusing on 13.56 MHz passive RFID chips. The main opportunity is to enhance RFID systems used for product authentication. An undisclosed luxury goods producer is planning to trial the technology, according to Khandelwal.

"This technology could go into any type of RFID chip, or any type of semiconductor for that matter. RF is just a communications medium," Khandelwal said.

Verayo's first product is the Vera X512H, which provides 512 bits of memory and is compatible with the ISO 14443-A standard for 13.56 MHz RFID chips. It offers 512 bits of user memory with 64-bit or longer challenge numbers. Verayo creates its PUF chips using RFID inlays from RSI ID Technologies. The X512H is available in production quantities now, according to Verayo, but will be officially launched during next week's RFID World show in Las Vegas.

Verayo was founded by Dr. Srini Devadas, who first developed the PUF technology at MIT, and Tom Ziola, whose past experience includes positions with Microsoft and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm. The lead investor is Khosla Ventures which is headed by Vinod Khosla, one of the four founders of Sun Microsystems, along with Andy Bechtolsheim, Bill Joy and Scott McNealy. Verayo's CEO, Anant Agrawal, came from Sun.

Verayo is at least the third startup announced this year focused on RFID security issues, joining Veratag and NeoCatena Networks. Veratag, like Verayo, is focused on authentication and cloning prevention (see Startup Adapting MEMS Technology for RFID Authentication). NeoCatena's system is also designed to detect cloned tags, but functions more as a firewall to prevent RFID intrusions into enterprise systems (see Startup Says System Can Detect, Block Cloned RFID Tags).
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