Feeds

Military chip crypto cracked with power-analysis probe

Akin to listening to safe tumblers, but with 'leccy

The essential guide to IT transformation

German computer scientists have taken advantage of the powerful number-crunching abilities of graphics chips to demonstrate a practical attack on the encryption scheme in programmable chips.

Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chips of the type used in embedded systems belonging to the military and the aerospace industry are vulnerable to attacks based on analysing power usage during the power up sequence of the chip. The side-channel attack against the bitstream encryption mechanism used by Virtex 4 and Virtex 5 chips from Xilinx allowed researchers from the Ruhr University to extract a key used to decrypt configuration instruction files. The technique uncovered secret keys by analysing fluctuations in power consumption during the decryption process.

Only one power up sequence needs to be monitored. The subsequent number crunching took up to nine hours, in the case of the more advanced Virtex 5 chip, or six hours in the case of the earlier Virtex 4.

The approach is akin to listening to the clicks coming from the tumblers of a safe to work out a combination, but using variations in power consumption rather than sound.

Identical decryption keys are normally used in all FPGAs in a mass-produced product, so the attack opens the way up towards the creation of counterfeit kit that would be difficult to tell apart from the real thing, or even the surreptitious introduction of hardware Trojans, the researchers warn. It might be possible to introduce revised instructions that compromised devices would accept as genuine because they had been signed with the correct digital key.

Access to the key allows cloning and manipulating a design, which has been encrypted to protect the intellectual property and to prevent fraud. As a consequence, the target product faces serious threats like IP theft and more advanced attacks such as reverse engineering or the introduction of hardware Trojans.

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first successful attack against the bitstream encryption of Xilinx Virtex 4 and Virtex 5 reported in the open literature.

The attack could be carried out with off-the-shelf hardware at moderate effort.

Countermeasures against such side-channel attacks have already been applied in some high-security devices, such as smartcards for banking or pay-TV applications, but not previously though necessary for complex semiconductor circuits, such as FPGAs cracked by the German team.

More details on the research by Amir Moradi, Markus Kasper and Christof Paa from the Horst Gortz Institute for IT-Security at Ruhr University can be found in a paper, On the Portability of Side-Channel Attacks, here. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Ice cream headache as black hat hacks sack Dairy Queen
I scream, you scream, we all scream 'DATA BREACH'!
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
KER-CHING! CryptoWall ransomware scam rakes in $1 MEEELLION
Anatomy of the net's most destructive ransomware threat
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
Attack flogged through shiny-clicky social media buttons
66,000 users popped by malicious Flash fudging add-on
New Snowden leak: How NSA shared 850-billion-plus metadata records
'Federated search' spaffed info all over Five Eyes chums
Three quarters of South Korea popped in online gaming raids
Records used to plunder game items, sold off to low lifes
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?