NSA cryptography project uses National Semiconductor technology

Engineers at Motorola Space and Systems Technology Group in Scottsdale, Ariz., needed low-cost sub-micron technology for a cryptographic processing project called Advanced INFOSEC Micro-processor (AIM) for the National Security Agency in Washington.

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Engineers at Motorola Space and Systems Technology Group in Scottsdale, Ariz., needed low-cost sub-micron technology for a cryptographic processing project called Advanced INFOSEC Micro-processor (AIM) for the National Security Agency in Washington.

The Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor-7 (CMOS) 0.35-micron technology, also known as system on a chip, developed by experts at National Semiconductor in Santa Clara, Calif., met their needs.

The National Semiconductor sub-micron process provides for a very small delay in gate-to-gate transfer and was an affordable off-the shelf technology, says Kerry Smith, AIM Project Leader at Motorola. Other advantages include its low power (3.3 volts), high reliability, and its status as a Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) solution, she says. The CMOS packaging was also very dense, with four metal layers, Smith adds.

"A sub-micron gate is much like a fuse that powers a light bulb," explains Bernie Jenkins, marketing manager of the National Semiconductor customization business unit. It connects the two clamps that draw the electricity. The sub-micron is actually below the surface of the wafer contained in the silicon. The smaller the size between the clamps the more systems you can fit on a single chip, Jenkins explains.

System on a chip is where the industry is right now, he says. "We are near completion of 0.25-micron technology at this time. The next level is 0.18."

Commercial semiconductor-based system developments are moving along quickly, while those in the military are falling relatively behind, because semiconductor manufacturers make more money from their commercial customers, Jenkins says. In the amount of time necessary to research two military projects, chip makers could complete 40 to 50 commercial contracts, he adds. "The military just doesn`t have the volume," Jenkins says.

The AIM project is designed for embedded cryptographic processing engines for communication equipment. Designers can implement its technology in either a data flow-through architecture or in a co-processor architecture.

The AIM VLSI is unclassified until programmed, and is targeted for applications ranging from securing hand-held radios to high-performance multi-channel radios and networks.

AIM`s programmable cryptographic processor contains two high-speed processing engines developed to perform channel encryption/decryption and data processing typically in secure communications signaling.

Both engines operate independently and combine to process 1,200 million 32-bit instructions per second. Both cryptographic engines contain a custom high-performance 32 RISC general purpose processor running at 100 MHz.

A RISC processor is also used for general purpose data processing such as in-Band signal processing, error detection and correction, or any other protocol or format processing required by the cryptographic. - J.M.

For more information on National Semiconductor`s 0.35 sub-micron technology contact Bernie Jenkins by phone at 703-721-7200, by mail at 2900 Semiconductor Drive, Santa Clara, Calif., 95052-8090, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.national.com/.

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Above are the specifications for National Semi-conductor`s CMOS-7 sub-micron technology being used by the National Security Agency`s cryptographic processing project, the Advanced INFOSEC Microprocessor developed by engineers at the Motorola Space and Systems Technology Group in Scottsdale.

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