Scientists attempt to create an unhackable CPU

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns when it comes to technology is a device’s security. This is understandable since many of us conduct our whole lives on our phones—from contacts, passwords, and bank information—our devices are a treasure trove of personal information.

Now that we have become dependent on many of our devices, it has become increasingly important to protect our privacy. That’s why in late May, an academic research team from the University of Michigan announced that they are working on an unhackable CPU to prevent cyberattacks.

Computer processors are the central command of computers. It’s responsible for dictating what a machine should do—and while they are built to be powerful, they aren’t perfect. CPUs are fairly easy to infiltrate, especially for trained hackers. Unsavory characters simply need to zero in on a processor’s vulnerabilities to take over, and they immediately gain access to your data. If you recall, some major social media platforms fell victim to vicious cyberattacks earlier this year, and these attacks led to millions of users’ data being exposed and sold on various hacker sites. An unhackable CPU can prevent these types of attacks, and it would certainly be a welcome addition to your cybersecurity efforts.

The research team from the University of Michigan is led by Todd Austin, a computer scientist. The CPU is called “Morpheus,” and they’re designing it to be virtually “hack-proof.” This means it has an enhanced defense system that enables it to combat hackers’ tactics.

The unhackable CPU proved itself during a virtual program by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency where a group of 580 White Hat Hackers attempted to break through its barriers. The hackers spent a whopping 13,000 hours trying to get into the unhackable CPU, but they were unsuccessful.

According to Austin, they designed the CPU to turn “into a puzzle that happens to compute.” He added, “Our idea was that if we could make it really hard to make any exploit work on it, then we wouldn’t have to worry about individual exploits.” Cyber attackers would have such a difficult time figuring out how to navigate the unhackable CPU that they would, theoretically, no longer be interested in targeting it.

Austin and his team are using an algorithm called “Simon” to encrypt and decrypt the machine in just a matter of milliseconds. The unhackable CPU would change its chip’s code multiple times, making it impossible for hackers to infiltrate it—unless they discover a way to break through its defenses in under a second. Austin says, “We just encrypt stuff. We take pointers—references to locations in memory—and encrypt them. That puts 128 bits of randomness in our pointers.”

While this doesn’t completely protect computers from SQL injections or other similar attacks, it does protect from basic attacks that target security flaws. Once fully developed, Morpheus may just take cybersecurity to the next level and prevent many cyberattacks from compromising precious data.

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Misha Fabian

Athlete | Performer | Writer

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