Jmem Tek enhances chip security, helping prevent chips from being physically cracked by reverse engineering

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John Chang, CEO of Jmem Tek. Credit: Company

With the coming Internet of Things (IoT) era, a large number of devices will be connected to the Internet. While this trend brings convenience, it also brings an increased risk of equipment being hacked and chips being illegally copied. Faced with such threats to information security, the Taiwanese start-up Jmem Technology (Jmem Tek) has developed various products, such as MSOTP and PUF, that can help companies raise their storage density, prevent physical attacks, and generate random data for higher unpredictability, to meet the market's high demand for security.

John Chang, CEO of Jmem Tek, pointed out that there are several pain points in information security for chips. First, most memory chips are very similar in their structure, while the main difference is the firmware. This similarity makes it easier for hackers to crack. Second, a large amount of firmware is stored in OTP (one-time programmable) memory. Protecting firmware has thus become the current key to information security. Third, chips are exposed to the risk of reverse engineering. Hackers can easily obtain chip data by removing the coating or using physical methods such as X-ray. Jmem Tek's technology can solve those pain points.

Jmem Tek was co-founded by four graduates of the College of Electrical and Computer Engineering of National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University—John Chang, Paul Lo, Johnny Lu, and Jerry Chang, with their product concepts originating from John Chang's doctoral thesis. The company currently houses a team of about 15, whose member's backgrounds include electronic engineering and other professional fields. John pointed out that, in its early days, the Jmem Tek team actively participated in competitions to promote its innovative concepts and technological achievements. And it did quite well—for example, this year (2023), it was invited to participate in the City-Tech.Tokyo event for startups, the world's largest urban technology exhibition, hosted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. In September, it was selected as second place in the TW-SG Startup Exchange Program and was invited to the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH). Then, in November, it was selected into the TINVA TOP 10 Startup by the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) New Venture Association (TINVA), showing the company's potential for development.

John then introduced Jmem Tek's major technologies. Its patented MSOTP is a major innovation in the field of anti-fuse OTP memory. Each device unit in MSOTP can store two bits of data. That means fewer transistors can store the same amount of data as in traditional methods. In addition, the structure Jmem Tek designed makes it difficult for physical attacks such as X-ray and decapping to attain the storage status of the MSOTP. Since it is also highly compatible with the CMOS logic process, the technology requires no additional photomask during the manufacturing process, meaning production costs can be reduced.

MSOTP's low power consumption and small surface area are particularly suitable for IoT, where space is limited and devices are distributed. Applications for MSOTP include secure data storage, key storage, sensor fine-tuning, parameter setting, function selection, etc. In addition, users can also integrate MSOTP and traditional OTP to avoid brute force cracking and meet higher security level storage requirements.

In addition to MSOTP, Jmem Technology's patented technology also includes hardware security technology PUF. PUF is a hardware security technology derived from non-uniformity in the wafer manufacturing process. The unique "uniqueness" and "unpredictability" of PUF can generate random sequences in the trust system, effectively reducing the risk of being cracked by the algorithm. Jmem Technology's patented PUF technology relies on its innovative structure to reduce chip area and improve performance, making it highly competitive in the market.

The technologies of MSOTP and PUF make the chip almost impossible to crack by reverse engineering, greatly improving the security strength. The company's current business model is to provide design services to IC manufacturers, John pointed out. This technology is particularly suitable for small and medium-sized enterprises or start-up teams that cannot easily obtain relevant resources from large IC design manufacturers. Jmem Tek can assist customers with limited scale to quickly meet the security needs of the market.

Regarding future development, John said that Jmem Tek will focus on the two major areas of the Internet of Things and vehicle-mounted systems, as well as AIoT protection algorithms and solutions that combine the algorithms on the device side to avoid algorithm theft. There are a large number of edge devices in the Internet of Things, and the functions of chips are single and there are many cost considerations. The company's solutions help manufacturers in this field create economical and simple systems. The automotive market has taken off rapidly in recent years, and industry players and consumers have become increasingly aware of system security. Jmem Technology's patented technology meets these needs. Since the automotive field requires long-term certification, the initial focus will be on the Internet of Things. The automotive market development strategy is to first establish cooperative relationships with industrial supply chain manufacturers and enter the market step by step.

It has been about a year and a half since its establishment in April 2022. John's feelings about Taiwan's new innovation environment are quite positive. He pointed out that Taiwan currently has a vibrant atmosphere for innovation, with policies, regulations, and various plans becoming more and more complete, such as the startup cluster planned by TTA and InnoVEX, the startup exhibition area that helped participate in COMPUTEX. For start-up teams with limited resources, it will bring huge help in technology exposure and fundraising. In addition, he also hopes that there will be more resources and policies focusing on early-stage start-ups in the future. It allows teams with the potential to accelerate their maturity and create a win-win vision of co-prosperity for both the enterprise and the country's economic development.

Jmem tek team members

Jmem Tek team members
Photo: Company