Paper 2019/022

The BIG Cipher: Design, Security Analysis, and Hardware-Software Optimization Techniques

Anthony Demeri, Thomas Conroy, Alex Nolan, and William Diehl


Secure block cipher design is a complex discipline which combines mathematics, engineering, and computer science. In order to develop cryptographers who are grounded in all three disciplines, it is necessary to undertake synergistic research as early as possible in technical curricula, particularly at the undergraduate university level. In this work, students are presented with a new block cipher, which is designed to offer moderate security while providing engineering and analysis challenges suitable for the senior undergraduate level. The BIG (Block) (Instructional, Generic) cipher is analyzed for vulnerability to linear cryptanalysis. Further, the cipher is implemented using the Nios II microprocessor and two configurations of memory-mapped hardware accelerators, in the Cyclone V FPGA on the Terasic DE1 System-on-chip (SoC). Three distinct implementations are realized: 1) Purely software (optimized for latency), 2) Purely hardware (optimized for area), and 3) A hardware-software codesign (optimized for throughput-to-area ratio). All three implementations are evaluated in terms of latency (encryption and decryption), throughput (Mbps), area (ALMs), and throughput-to-area (TP/A) ratio (Mbps/ALM); all metrics account for a fully functional Nios II, 8 kilobytes of on-chip RAM, Avalon interconnect, benchmark timer, and any hardware accelerators. In terms of security, we demonstrate recovery of a relationship among 12 key bits using as few as 16,000 plaintext/ciphertext pairs in a 6-round reduced round attack and reveal a diffusion rate of only 43.3 percent after 12 rounds. The implementation results show that the hardware-software codesign achieves a 67x speed-up and 37x increase in TP/A ratio over the software implementation, and 5x speed-up and 5x increase in TP/A ratio compared to the hardware implementation.

Available format(s)
Secret-key cryptography
Publication info
Block cipherlinear cryptanalysisFPGANios IICyclone Vdesign optimizationundergraduateeducation
Contact author(s)
wdiehl @ vt edu
2019-01-09: received
Short URL
Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Anthony Demeri and Thomas Conroy and Alex Nolan and William Diehl},
      title = {The BIG Cipher: Design, Security Analysis, and Hardware-Software Optimization Techniques},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2019/022},
      year = {2019},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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