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Breaking and Entering through the Silicon

Helfmeier*, Nedospasov*, Tarnovsky, Krissler, Boit, Seifert
20th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (ACM CCS 2013)
Berlin, Germany


As the surplus market of failure analysis equipment continues to grow, the cost of performing invasive IC analysis continues to diminish. Hardware vendors in high-security applications utilize security by obscurity to implement layers of protection on their devices. High-security applications must assume that the attacker is skillful, well-equipped and well-funded. Modern security ICs are designed to make readout of decrypted data and changes to security configuration of the device impossible. Countermeasures such as meshes and attack sensors thwart many state of the art attacks. Because of the perceived difficulty and lack of publicly known attacks, the IC backside has largely been ignored by the security community. However, the backside is currently the weakest link in modern ICs because no devices currently on the market are protected against fully-invasive attacks through the IC backside. Fully-invasive backside attacks circumvent all known countermeasures utilized by modern implementations. In this work, we demonstrate the first two practical fully-invasive attacks against the IC backside. Our first attack is fully-invasive backside microprobing. Using this attack we were able to capture decrypted data directly from the data bus of the target IC’s CPU core. We also present a fully invasive backside circuit edit. With this attack we were able to set security and configuration fuses of the device to arbitrary values.