School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Multi-Physical Unclonable Function (PUF) Designs & Architectures

GCHQ-Sponsored PhD Studentship commencing 30 September 2017

Proposed Project Title:

  • Multi-Physical Unclonable Function (PUF) Designs & Architectures

Principal Supervisor(s):
  • Máire O’Neill

Project Description:

Imagine a world in which everyone owns self-driving cars, you can use a mobile phone to control home alarm/heating/lighting systems and remotely see your GP with wearable devices providing your health data. This will all be possible within the next decade with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), when all our devices will be connected to the Internet and each other.

However, in order for IoT to be successful, ensuring the privacy and security of the information communicated between devices is crucial and is a major challenge. Practical attacks of IoT devices have already been shown, e.g. 150,000 IoT devices were compromised for use in the massive distributed denial-of-service attack that recently disrupted US internet traffic. As IoT devices typically have limited memory and computing power, adding complex security features is not always possible.

This research will investigate the design of novel Physical Unclonable Functions, which exploit random variations found in the silicon used in the manufacture of electronic chips as an inherently lightweight means to uniquely identify and authenticate IoT devices.


The main aims of the proposed research are:     

  • To study the state of the art in Physical Unclonable Functions (PUFs) 
  • To investigate novel software-based PUF designs for an embedded micro-controller (MCU) in addition to a multi-PUF design based on combining software and/or hardware PUFs.
  • To investigate methods to accurately evaluate the entropy offered by a PUF primitive, as current metrics vary widely and can depend on how the PUF is to be subsequently used.
  • To study the use of PUFs in higher level protocols. It is widely claimed that a PUF can provide low-cost identification and authentication; however these claims are not always backed up with a solid security proof.

Academic Requirements:

A minimum 2.1 honours degree or equivalent in Electrical and Electronic Engineering or relevant degree is required.

This is a GCHQ-sponsored PhD studentship; therefore, only UK nationals are eligible for this funding.

GCHQ will be offering the student an opportunity to work more closely with them – e.g., via a short secondment or attendance at technical meetings. As such, the recipient of this studentship will have to be appropriately security cleared by GCHQ before they start their doctoral studies. 

General Information:

This GCHQ-sponsored PhD studentship provides funding for 3.5 years and commences on September 2017. It covers approved tuition fees and a maintenance grant of approx.. £22,500 each year (tax-free). A further £5k of funding will also be available per annum for travel to conferences, collaborative partners, GCHQ visits, etc.

Applicants should apply electronically through the Queen’s online application portal at:

Deadline for submission of applications is 31 May 2017.
(Early submission of applications is recommended)

Contact details:

Supervisor Name: Máire O’Neill

Queens University of Belfast
School of EEECS,
NI Science Park,
Queen’s Road,
Queen’s Island,

Tel: 028 90971785

For further information on Research Area click on link below: