X-ray attacks of new generation integrated circuits

Published : 1 January 2023

CESTI is an Information Technology Security Evaluation Facility (ITSEF) laboratory dedicated to security evaluations of integrated circuits. During its evaluation process, various tests can be performed, amongst whose perturbation attacks. The latter consists in modifying chip behavior in order to get secret keys, to bypass authentication steps or to get rid of specific countermeasures. Laser, Electromagnetic injectors, Pulse generators can be used for such attacks. The CESTI lab always seeks new attack means and recently proves that X-rays irradiation can induce exploitable faults. Moreover, X-ray attacks are feasible at the single transistor level.

To further investigate X-ray attacks, the PhD proposes to explore the intrinsic limits of X-ray attacks, to develop realistic attacks on new generation components and understand the physical aspects of such perturbations. The PhD will comprise an experimental part with actual attacks over various devices, using either a nano-focalized X-ray source (from ESRF) or a cheaper X-ray generator to decrease the attacking power. Thanks to a collaboration with ONERA, physical and electric simulation will be possible to better understand the effects of X-ray on transistors.

Finally, when low-level effects will be controlled, in order to mount realistic attacks on cryptography scheme or software, a theoretical study of the possible attack paths will be needed, looking at the specificity of faults generated by X-ray. The final goal of the thesis is to demonstrate a real attack on a recent device, reducing at most the attacking power. The actual threat of such attacks will be well defined at the end of the thesis. Applications to other domains such as circuit hardening and fault analysis will also be considered.

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