Optical Fault Induction Attacks
We describe a new class of attacks on secure microcontrollers and smartcards. Illumination of a target transistor causes it to conduct, thereby inducing a transient fault. Such attacks are practical; they do not even require expensive laser equipment. We have carried them out using a flashgun bought second-hand from a camera store for $30 and with an $8 laser pointer. As an illustration of the power of this attack, we developed techniques to set or reset any individual bit of SRAM in a microcontroller. Unless suitable countermeasures are taken, optical probing may also be used to induce errors in cryptographic computations or protocols, and to disrupt the processor’s control flow. It thus provides a powerful extension of existing glitching and fault analysis techniques. This vulnerability may pose a big problem for the industry, similar to those resulting from probing attacks in the mid-1990s and power analysis attacks in the late 1990s.
We have therefore developed a technology to block these attacks. We use self-timed dual-rail circuit design techniques whereby a logical 1 or 0 is not encoded by a high or low voltage on a single line, but by (HL) or (LH) on a pair of lines. The combination (HH) signals an alarm, which will typically reset the processor. Circuits can be designed so that single-transistor failures do not lead to security failure. This technology may also make power analysis attacks very much harder too.
KeywordsSmart Card Block Cipher Transient Fault SRAM Cell Power Analysis Attack
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