Side-channel and fault-injection attacks are two forms of attack that cybercriminals use to target cryptographic keys in silicon. FortifyIQ said it helps chip designers address security vulnerabilities before manufacturing with a suite of tools enabling pre-silicon security verification.
It’s widely accepted that valuable secrets such as cryptographic keys should be protected, and that hardware rather than software protection offers a better level of protection from attackers. There are two main forms of attacks that are targeting hardware: side-channel attacks (SCA) – see below “What is a side channel attack” – and fault injection attacks (FIA). With SCAs, the cybercriminal measures some physical characteristics (such as power consumption, electromagnetic emission) when an operation involving the secret key is performed by the chip. Then, the attacker analyzes the acquired measurements to determine the secret key value, while leaving no trace of the information being stolen.
FIAs are cheap, practical, and very dangerous. Here, the attacker causes faults in chip operation (for example, by increasing power supply voltage) and then analyzes and compares the faulty behavior with the normal behavior to determine the value of the secret key.
FortifyIQ’s solutions, SideChannel Studio and FaultInjection Studio make it possible to perform security verification during the chip design process, in the same way as functional verification. These help to plan and implement defenses against both side-channel and fault injection attacks at the very early design stages, well before chip manufacturing. Hence using these tools it is possible to perform the entire security verification cycle at the pre-silicon stage, avoiding the expensive and time-consuming process of analyzing and correcting security vulnerabilities with a manufactured device, as well as potential re-spins and schedule delays.
“We see that addressing hardware security vulnerabilities is now a major challenge for our customers,” stated Alexander Kesler, CEO, FortifyIQ. “Financial losses from security breaches can be staggering. FortifyIQ is delivering unique and innovative solutions that enable security verification in the pre-silicon stage, enabling design teams to build in security countermeasures as part of their design process.”
Awareness of these types of attacks is growing, and there are two widely used certification standards – National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST (U.S.) and Common Criteria (Europe) that require robust security countermeasures against these attacks.
SideChannel Studio and FaultInjection Studio support industry-standard design data formats and can be readily integrated into an existing design flow. SideChannel Studio simulates side-channel leakage and produces simulated traces in the same formats real scopes use for traces, while FaultInjection Studio performs a special-purpose fault simulation.
Using the simulation output, SideChannel Studio and FaultInjection Studio then perform the same tests that certification labs perform, mount the same attacks that certification labs mount, and check whether there are any signs of leakage. Furthermore, for U.S. government projects as well as many private organization projects, compliance with the NIST cryptography certification FIPS 140-3 is required. Using SideChannel Studio in the pre-silicon stage, designers can be certain the device will pass the test vector leakage assessment (TVLA) tests necessary for the NIST certification.
What is a side-channel attack?
As Alexander Kesler explained in Security magazine, a side-channel attack is analogous to the process of cracking the code of a bank safe by listening with a stethoscope to the faint sounds the lock makes when the right numbers are selected on the dial. A cybercriminal can collect traces of power consumption, reading this with an oscilloscope, while using the device in normal operation. By capturing small variations in power consumption during normal operations, this can reveal the nature of the computations performed by the device. This would include even the secret keys within the device.
It is actually relatively inexpensive to mount side-channel attacks against cryptographically protected devices. All that the bad actor needs is either physical access or close proximity to the target device or facility, an oscilloscope, a computer with statistical analysis software and a parts that can easily be found online. Collecting this information can be carried out by anyone without technical qualifications. Typical parameters that can be collected for a SCA include differential power analysis (DPA), electromagnetic emissions analysis (EMEA and fault injection analysis.
This trace collection and analysis process can enable extraction of a global cryptographic key, enabling cybercriminals to control both the device and others in the supply chain that might share the same key. That is because some manufacturers use identical keys which are shared only by one product, or sometimes by several products.
The end effect of this is to compromise the Root of Trust (RoT), which is a supposed to be the core of a device’s identity within a cryptographic system. Within the HSM, or hardware security module, it is a tamper-resistant special-purpose element that generates and protects secure keys and performs cryptographic functions inside a device.
By mounting a side-channel attack on the RoT such as a HSM, this ultimately leads to cybercriminals gaining control and stealing the identity of the device. Attackers can then directly exploit the hardware, injecting commands at hardware level or installing malicious programs. This can lead to all sorts of consequences: the attackers can passively gather data, actively execute specific commands, or completely take control of a target’s endpoint and other targets that share the same security key via the network, internet connection, or which are in close physical proximity.
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