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  1. (Dept. of Electronic Engineering, Hanyang University, 222 Wangsimni-ro, Seongdong-gu, Seoul 04763, Korea )
  2. (Dept. of IT Convergence and Application Engineering, Pukyong National University, 45, Yongso-ro, Nam-gu, Busan 48513, Korea)

Application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), lightweight ciphers, cryptographic, hardware implementation, digital circuit


Devices protect their data and authenticate themselves on the network using cryptographic services. These services require a large amount of computing power, which can lead to the degradation of CPU performance. Although this can be avoided by using hardware cryptoprocessors, some tiny devices, such as IoT sensors, have highly constrained resources available for cryptoprocessors. For example, low-cost RFID requires an area with a total of 1000–10,000 gates, of which only 200–2000 gates can be used for cryptographic services (2). In such a constrained environment, conventional cryptographic algorithms are unsuitable. Even the low-area design of the advanced encryption standard (AES) (3), which is a widely used symmetric block cipher, requires at least approximately 2000 gates (4). Therefore, lightweight cryptographic algorithms with a smaller size and lower power consumption than conventional ones have been proposed in recent years.

Lightweight cryptographic algorithms are divided into the following classes: stream ciphers, block ciphers, hash functions, and message authentication codes (MACs). Among these, we focused on the hardware implementation of block ciphers and investigated the suitability of hardware block ciphers for IoT sensors depending on the communication method. The contributions of this study are as follows

We analyzed the performance requirements of block ciphers for IoT sensors.

We implemented lightweight block ciphers under the same conditions for a fair comparison

Based on our performance requirements and implementation results, we determined the suitability of lightweight block ciphers for IoT sensors.

Table 1. Block sizes, key sizes, the number of rounds, network types and operations of lightweight block ciphers


Block size

Key size


Network type

Key storing



32, 48, 64, 96, 128

64, 72, 96, 128,

144, 192, 256




ARX (AND, Rotation, XOR)





ARX (Addition, Rotation, XOR)


32, 48, 64

64, 96, 128

30, 36, 44



ARX (AND, Rotation, XOR)

CHAM (7)

64, 128

128, 256

80, 96



ARX (Addition, Rotation, XOR)

LED (8)


64, 80, 128

32, 48



ARK, AC, SC, SR, MCS$^b$

Piccolo (9)


80, 128

25, 31



S-box, Diffusion, XOR, Permutation

TWINE (10)


80, 128




S-box, XOR, Permutation

$^a$Feistel-$x$:$y$ is a Feistel structure with $y$ branches and $x$ round functions

$^b$AddRoundKey, AddConstants, SubCells, ShiftRows, and MixColumnsSerial, respectively

Because the throughput and power consumption required by IoT sensors largely depend on their communication methods, we investigated popular communication methods that are used for IoT sensors, such as ultra-high-frequency (UHF) and high frequency (HF) RFID, and their performance requirements. IoT sensors with RFID are widely used in various fields; for example, logistics monitoring sensors in the e-manufacturing system (11), real-time biosensors reporting patients' status in healthcare (12), and smart-dust sensors (13) collecting various environmental data. Since most of these IoT sensors use limited power generated by RFID, they have simple microcontrollers, small memory, sensing modules, RFID modules, and security modules.

In addition, to allow for fair performance comparison, we implemented lightweight block ciphers in hardware using the same application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) technology library instead of simply referencing other researchers’ results obtained using different field-programmable gate array (FPGA) families (14,15) or using different ASIC technology libraries for performance comparison (16-20). Our performance requirements and implementation results show which block ciphers deliver the best performance and which block ciphers are suitable for IoT sensors.

Table 2. The common operations in the block ciphers



Bitwise exclusive-or (XOR)

Modular addition


i-bit left rotate shift


j- bit right rotate shift

The organization of this paper is as follows. Section II describes the lightweight block ciphers we discuss in this paper. Section III explains the hardware structure of these cyphers. Section IV presents the performance required for IoT sensors using RFID communication, the implementation results of block ciphers, and their suitability for IoT sensors using RFID communication. Finally, Section V concludes this paper.


In this section, we describe lightweight block ciphers that are suitable for hardware implementation, including SIMON (5), SPECK (5), SIMECK (6), CHAM (7), LED (8), Piccolo (9), and TWINE (10), but excluding RC5 (21), TEA (22) and XTEA (23), which are designed for constrained software environments. The information of these ciphers is summarized in Table 1. The common block and key sizes in Table 1 are 64 and 128 bits, respectively, and their structure for these sizes is represented in Fig. 1. Compared to AES, which has 128-bit block size and 128-, 196-, and 256-bit key sizes, the lightweight block ciphers have shorter blocks and key sizes and simpler operations as shown in Table 2, and the security strength that may be weakened by shorter keys and simpler operations is compensated by more rounds. For example, AES requires 10 rounds for the 128-bit key, whereas lightweight block ciphers require more than 20 rounds for the same key size, where the key size typically represents the security strength.

Fig. 1. Encryption structure of (a) SIMON and SIMECK, (b) SPECK, (c) CHAM, (d) LED, (e) Piccolo, (f) TWINE.


▪ SIMON and SPECK (5) support various lengths of block and key sizes: 32, 48, 64, 96, and 128 bits for the block size and 64, 72, 96, 128, 144, 192, and 256 bits for the key size. Both block ciphers have two branches, but the Feistel-like structure of SPECK does not rotate the branches at each round, as shown in Fig. 1(b), which differs from the classical Feistel structure of SIMON, as shown in Fig. 1(a). In addition, SIMON has 44 rounds and performs AND, rotation, and XOR operations, whereas SPECK has 27 rounds and performs an addition instead of an AND operation. Details of their operations are listed in Table 3.

▪ SIMECK (6) is similar to SIMON, except that it supports fewer block and key sizes than SIMON, and the number of rounds is different, as shown in Table 1 and Fig. 1(a). The round function is slightly different, as detailed in Table 3.

▪ CHAM (7) is a 64- and 128-bit block cipher, which uses 128- and 256-bit key sizes. CHAM has a four-branch Feistel structure, which is shown in Fig. 1(c) and performs addition, rotation, and XOR operations, as listed in Table 4. CHAM has 80 and 96 rounds. CHAM has key scheduling; however, round keys can be calculated immediately from the input key value. Consequently, CHAM does not need flip-flops (FFs) to store key values that are updated during key scheduling.

Fig. 2. Serial-based structure of (a) SIMON and SIMECK, (b) TWINE.


▪ LED (8) is a 64-bit block cipher with a 64-, 80-, or 128-bit key and has 48 rounds. Among the lightweight block ciphers covered in this paper, only LED has a substitution permutation network (SPN) structure. The encryption structure of LED is shown in Fig. 1(d). The structure and transformations of LED are similar to those of AES, which is one of the most popular block ciphers and has an SPN structure. The most significant difference from AES is that LED has no key scheduling. LED directly selects and uses some bits from the key input at each round; thus, like CHAM, LED does not require key storing FFs.

▪ Piccolo (9) is a 64-bit block cipher with an 80- or 128-bit key and has 25 or 31 rounds depending on the key size. Piccolo has a Feistel structure with four branches and two round functions. Each round function performs XOR and F-Function operations. An F-Function, expressed as $F_{0}(x)$ in Table 5, has two S-box layers and a diffusion function, and each S-box layer consists of four 4-bit S-boxes. After the round function, 64-bit data are divided into 8-bit sub-blocks, and the sub-blocks are permutated. The entire structure of encryption is shown in Fig. 1(e). Similar to CHAM and for the same reason, Piccolo does not require key-storing FFs.

▪ TWINE (10) is a 64-bit block cipher with an 80- or 128-bit key and the structure is similar to Piccolo, as shown in Fig. 1(f). Only the number of rounds, branches, and round functions are different, and TWINE has simpler round functions, which consist of XOR and S-box. Details of its round operations are listed in Table 5.

Table 3. Round operations of SIMON, SPECK, and SIMECK





$f_0 (L_i )⊕R_i⊕k_i$



$(ROR_α (L_i )+R_i )⊕k_i$

$L_(i+1)⊕ROL_β (R_i)$


f_1 (L_i )⊕R_i⊕k_i


$^{1}f_0 (X)=(ROL_1 (X)\text{&}ROL_8 (X))⊕ROL_2 (X)$

$^{2}f_1 (X)=(L_i\text{&}ROL_5 (L_i ))⊕ROL_1 (L_i )$

Table 4. Round operations of CHAM


$X_{i+1, 0}$









$^{1}f(X_{i,0},X_{i,1},k_i )=ROL_b ((X_{i,0}⊕C_i )+(k_i⊕ROL_a (X_{i,1} ))))$ where $(a,b)=(1,8)$ for odd rounds and $(a,b)=(8,1)$ for even rounds

Table 5. Round operations of LED, Piccolo, and TWINE


Round operation


\begin{array}{c} X_{i, 0}^{\prime}=S\left(k_{i, 0} \oplus X_{i, 0} \oplus C_{0}\right) \\ \ldots \\ X_{i, 15}^{\prime}=S\left(k_{i, 15} \oplus X_{i, 15} \oplus C_{15}\right) \\ X_{i+1,0}|\ldots| X_{i+1,15}=M C\left(S R\left(X_{i, 0}^{\prime}|\ldots| X_{i, 15}^{\prime}\right)\right. \end{array}


\begin{array}{c} X_{i, 1}^{\prime}=X_{i, 1} \oplus F_{0}\left(X_{i, 0}\right) \oplus r k_{2 i} \\ X_{i, 3}^{\prime}=X_{i, 3} \oplus F_{0}\left(X_{i, 2}\right) \oplus r k_{2 i+1} \\ X_{i+1,0}\left|X_{i+1,1}\right| \ldots\left|X_{i+1,3}=R P\left(X_{i, 0}\left|X_{i, 1}^{\prime}\right| X_{i, 2} \mid X_{i, 3}^{\prime}\right)\right. \end{array}


\begin{aligned} X_{i, 2 j+1}^{\prime}=& S\left(X_{i, 2 j} \oplus r k_{i}\right) \oplus X_{i, 2 j+1} \\ & \text { for } 0 \leq j<8 \\ X_{i+1,0}|\ldots| X_{i+1,15}=& R P\left(X_{i, 0}\left|X_{i, 1}^{\prime}\right| \ldots\left|X_{i, 14}\right| X_{i, 15}^{\prime}\right) \end{aligned}

$^1$$A|B$: concatenation of $A$ and $B$

$^2$$MC(SR(X))$ where MC is MixColumns and SR is Shift Rows

$^3$$F_0 (X)=SL(DF(SL(X)))$ where SL is S-box layer and DF is a diffusion function

$^4$$S(X)$ is 4-bit S-box

Table 6. Compared hardware requirement of frequency type


Range (m)

Operating freq. (MHz)

Throughput (kbps)*

Power (μW)

Prioritized performance

UHF (866 to 960 MHz)

3 to 10

1.5 to 2.5

> 1641

< 20 @ 2 MHz

High speed

HF (13.56 MHz)

< 0.1


> 3.56

< 22.5 @ 100 kHz

Low cost

*1641 kbps = 64 bits × 2 MHz / 78 clock cycles (24), and 3.56 kbps = 64 bits / 18 ms (25).

Table 7. Implementation results of round- and serial-based structure for 64-bit block size and 128-bit key size


Our results (Round-based)

Our results (Serial-based)

Area (GE) in other research




















@ 2 MHz

@ 100 kHz

@ 2 MHz

@ 100 kHz

@ 2 MHz

@ 100 kHz

@ 2 MHz

@ 100 kHz












DAC ’15 (5)

IBM 130














DAC ’15 (5)

IBM 130














CHES ’15 (6)

IBM 130














ICISC ’17 (7)

IBM 130














CHES ’11 (8)

UMC 180














CHES ’11 (9) $^{NK}$















SAC ’12 (10)




$^{NK}$has no FF for storing key


This section presents two of the hardware structures of the lightweight block ciphers shown in Table 1 with a 128-bit key and 64-bit block sizes: round-base structure and serial-based structure. The round-based structure processes each round operation for each clock cycle; however, the serial-based structure uses a minimal bit size operator to reduce the required resources.

1. Round-based Structure of Lightweight Block Ciphers

SIMON and SIMECK have a classical Feistel network, which has two branches, and one diffusion function. Although the network type of SPECK is not exactly classical Feistel, SPECK also has two branches, and its structure is very similar to that of both SIMON and SIMECK. These three block ciphers perform rotating shifts $(ROL_x$ and $ROR_x)$, $XOR (⊕)$, and addition (+) operations. Fig. 1 shows their structure, and Table 3 lists their round operations on the two branches, $L_i$ and $R_i$ for the i-th round.

In LED, the intermediate result is expressed as a state consisting of 4 × 4 sub-blocks as in AES, but the sub-block size is 4-bit instead of 8-bit. Similar to AES, LED performs AddRoundKey using XOR, SubCells using 4-bit S-boxes, ShiftRows using rotated shifts, and MixColumnsSerial using XOR. An additional operation, AddConstants adds constant values generated by a linear feedback shift register.

CHAM, Piccolo, and TWINE also have the Feistel network but have more than two branches, i.e., 4, 4, and 16, respectively. The round operations of CHAM are listed in Table 4, and those of Piccolo, TWINE are presented in Table 5, where $X_{i,j}$ is the j-th branch of the i-th round, and $k_x$ and $rk_x$ is the scheduled key for each round. $F_0 (X)$ in Piccolo is diffusion functions, including eight 4-bit S-boxes and XORs. $RP(x) $ in Piccolo and TWINE denotes round permutation functions, which are split $x$ by 16 and 4 bits, respectively, and mix.

2. Serial-based Structure of Lightweight Block Ciphers

In the serial-based structure of SIMON, SPECK, SIMECK, and CHAM, certain bits are selected and operated to generate one new bit per clock, and the newly generated bit is appended to the left of the block by shifting the existing bits to the right by 1 bit. This is allowed because the bitwise operation, addition, and rotation operations can easily be performed on a bit-by-bit basis. Fig. 2(a) shows the serial-based structure of SIMON and SIMECK (5,6). CHAM and SPECK, which also have add-rotate-XOR(ARX) operations, can be implemented in a similar structure (5,7).

TWINE, Piccolo, and LED use 4-bit S-boxes, thus these ciphers process four bits instead of one bit during each clock cycle. Fig. 2(b) shows our serial-based structure of TWINE with the 128-bit key size we designed because previously (10), serial-based TWINE only used an 80-bit key. Our serial-based structure of TWINE only uses a single 4-bit S-box and two 4-bit XOR operations. Block mixing is performed in the Permutation layer. Piccolo and LED can be implemented in a similar structure (8,9).


This section describes the performance requirements for IoT sensors that use RFID communication and presents the results of our implementation. Based on these requirements and results, we determined the suitability of lightweight block ciphers for IoT sensors that use RFID communication.

1. Performance Required for Two Types of RFID

UHF RFID ranges from 3 m to 10 m when used without a battery. This long range allows UHF RFID to communicate with distant sensors. On the contrary, HF RFID has a very short range of up to 0.1 m; however, HF is not problematic with regard to tissue burning or power absorption by tissue in human bodies (26). Hence, HF RFID is suitable for biosensors.

Table 6 presents the throughput and power consumption of UHF and HF RFID. UHF RFID is commonly used for high-speed applications, and its required maximum latency is 78 clock cycles at 2 MHz (24). Hence, ciphers require throughput higher than 1641 kbps without which IoT sensors that use RFID communication may be ineffective. In addition, the average power consumption should be less than 10 μW/MHz, that is, 20 μW at 2 MHz.

In contrast, in the case of HF RFID, area and power consumption are more important than speed. According to the HF RFID standard (27), the upper bound of the response time for the challenge is 320 μs. This means that the block cipher must process one encryption in 32 clock cycles at 100 kHz, the operating frequency of HF RFID. It is very difficult for lightweight block ciphers to encrypt the challenge in such a short response time. However, Feldhofer et al. (25) proposed a new HF RFID protocol with a much longer response time of 18 ms. With the use of this protocol (25), the lower bound of throughput is 3.56 kbps when one 64-bit block has to be processed in the response time. If there is more than one block, the lower bound will increase. In addition, the average power consumption should be less than 22.5 μW at 100 kHz (25).

Table 8. Compared gate count of technology library

Used technology


D Flip-flop



Magna 180 nm (this work)




IBM 130 nm in (5), (6), (7)




UMC 180 nm in (8)




130 nm in (9)




90 nm in (10)




As for the area, the exact required values have rarely been specified. Although the upper limit of the area of a block cipher was indicated to be 2000 gates (24), this number is likely to decrease with time. Attempts have been made to reduce the chip size of biosensors. For example, the glucose sensor chip designed by Buettner et al. (13) has a sensing unit with a size of 0.01 mm$^{2}$, which is much smaller than the size of 0.15 mm$^{2}$ that was previously used (26). Although our research is not concerned with the area of block ciphers, these efforts to reduce the area of biosensor chips are expected to also require the block cipher to become increasingly smaller.

2. Implementation Results

We implemented the lightweight block ciphers listed in Table 1 using the same Magna 180-nm CMOS process technology library. The round- and serial-based implementation results are presented in Table 7. All round-based ciphers have an area of less than 2000 GE, and all serial-based ciphers have an area of less than 1600 GE. According to our implementation results, CHAM has the smallest area and lowest power consumption for both round- and serial-based structures.

The implementation results obtained in other studies are also included in Table 7. Compared with these results, most of our area results are 20–30 % larger. However, this is not due to our inefficient implementation, but the difference in the technology library. Table 8 lists the gate equivalents of selected gates such as D flip-flop, 2-input XOR, and 2-input MUX from various technology libraries. As is clear from Table 8, the standard cells of the Magna 180-nm library we used have GEs that are 19–33 % larger than those of the technology libraries used in related studies (5-7,9). This could explain why we obtained a larger area for Piccolo, SIMON, SPECK, SIMECK, and CHAM than that in other research. In contrast, the area we obtained for LED and TWINE is smaller than that in other research. In fact, our round-based LED is approximately 45 % smaller than the results of Guo et al. (8). In addition to the differences among libraries, our results could be explained by considering that we implemented our LED without FFs for storing the key in contrast to Guo et al. (8). Our implementation result of serial-based TWINE is the first result that uses a 128-bit key because Suzaki et al. (10) only provides the result of serial-based TWINE for the 80-bit key.

3. Suitability of Lightweight Block Ciphers Implemented on Hardware for IoT Sensors

Based on the above performance requirements and implementation results, only round-based Piccolo and LED are suitable for IoT sensors using the entire operating frequency range of UHF RFID communication. CHAM is also available but is valid at clock frequencies of 2.06 MHz and higher because of throughput. Piccolo, LED, and CHAM are similar in that they do not need to update key values during key scheduling, thereby obviating the need for key FF. Although other round-based ciphers satisfy the throughput requirement, they do not meet the requirements in terms of power consumption. None of the serial-based ciphers are suitable owing to their low throughput.

For HF RFID communication, all round-based block ciphers satisfy the performance requirements, and their serial-based design would be preferable because of their lower cost and power consumption. Although the throughput of certain serial-based block ciphers such as LED and SPECK is insufficient, their throughput can be increased by splitting their ARX operations into units larger than one bit, according to an existing approach (5), or by using more than one S-box. This means that serial-based LED and SPECK are also suitable if they process more data per clock cycle by compromising the area increase.


We analyzed the performance requirements of RFID communications and implemented various lightweight block ciphers in ASIC. Instead of referring to the results of the previous study, we have re-implemented all the block ciphers including serial-based TWINE with 128-bit key, which has not been not included in the previous study, and we used the same Magna 180-nm CMOS process technology. Our implementation results enabled us to compare the performance of lightweight block ciphers under the same conditions. In addition, we determined their suitability for IoT sensors that use RFID communication. According to our performance requirements and implementation results, round-based Piccolo and LED are suitable for all operating frequencies of UHF RFID communication, whereas round-based CHAM is only suitable for UHF RFID communication at 2.06 MHz and higher frequencies. Unlike other block ciphers, the advantage of these three block ciphers is that they do not need keys to be stored. When HF RFID is used, all round-based lightweight block ciphers are suitable; in addition, the use of their serial-based designs is also considered to minimize cost and power consumption.


This work was partially supported by Institute for Information & communications Technology Planning & Evaluation (IITP) grant funded by the Korea government (MSIT) (No.2020-0-00215, The Development of H/W Vulnerability Assessment Technologies Against Supply-chain Attacks). The chip fabrication and EDA tool were supported by the IC Design Education Center (IDEC), Korea. The corresponding author is Dong Kyue Kim.


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Wonbae Kong

Wonbae Kong received the B.S. degree in Electronic Engineering from Hanyang University in 2015.

He is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Electronic Engineering at Hanyang University, Korea.

Piljoo Choi

Piljoo Choi received the B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Electronic Engineering from Hanyang Univer-sity in 2010, 2012, and 2017, respectively.

He is currently an assistant professor in the Department of IT Convergence and Application Engineering at Pukyong National University, Korea.

Dong Kyue Kim

Dong Kyue Kim received the B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Engineering from Seoul National University in 1992, 1994, and 1999, respectively.

From 1999 to 2005, he was an assistant professor in the Division of Computer Science and Engineering at Pusan National University.

He is currently a full professor in the Department of Electronic Engineering at Hanyang University, Korea.