Below you may find my presentation from the Confidence 2018. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or doubts

PDF for download: Downlad


Can we trust our processors, routers and other electronic IP components? This important question is often left unanswered. Due to the high production complexity and costs of very-large-scale integration (VLSI) resulting from contemporary transistor designs, the majority of regular users have little to no choice when selecting hardware components and even lower a possibility of validating them. Consequently, many of us are forced to depend on the honesty of big corporations and the assumption that if we apply a commonly used component from a known provider sooner or later someone will find such a threat for us. However, this does not negate the technical feasibility of hardware attacks, proved by research results, neither confirms that our hardware is thoroughly tested e.g. Meltdown and Spectre bugs in Intel CPUs. Moreover, recent scandals, for instance Snowden’s affair, has shown that there are organizations and institutions capable of enormous efforts to compromise the security. The goal of the presentation is to familiarize the audience with current research results on so-called ‘hardware trojan’, understood as intentional manipulations of integrated circuits (ICs) that weaken or compromise the security of the systems. Besides theoretical background, author presents case studies of exemplary attacks, which can be directed against CPUs as well as against special ICs in network routers. The dissemination is done through a systematic analysis of steps leading towards the creation of such circuits. Firstly, the requirements will be considered: where and for what purpose hardware vulnerabilities could be placed in products. This includes an evaluation of the possible advantages and disadvantages (as well as similarities and differences) that such solutions have when compared to the known software counterparts. Next, the discussion proceeds with a part addressing technical aspects: how and when, in the process of the VLSI circuit design, a possible hardware threat could be implemented by the manufacturer. Here, different production methods and abstraction layers are discussed e.g. HDL languages, RTL design, chip layout or even fabrication in silicone. This evaluation is supported by the detailed case studies. For demonstration purposes, the implementation of a simple CPU backdoor in the Leon3 processor is considered including a brief overview of the hardware mechanisms (e.g. ring protection) forming a security foundation in most of existing systems. Additionally, the methods used to weaken encryption mechanisms which are becoming the backbone of the complex security solutions are proposed. The final part of the presentation concentrates on the verification and commercial aspects of hardware vulnerabilities. This includes answering the following questions: how difficult is the detection of malicious circuits in contemporary designs? If this happens, what are possible consequences for the “malicious” manufacturers and how could they be avoided. The aim of this talk is to raise the audience’s awareness on the fact that the introduction of ‘trojan horses’ into the commercially available integrated circuit is technically feasible and proven by publications, practical works and press reports. Moreover, the prevention is difficult and expensive requiring specialized equipment and dedicated personnel. Therefore, hardware tests and validation should become the permanent parts of corporate and national security policies.