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Physical Attacks and Tamper Resistance


Many semiconductor chips used in a wide range of applications require protection against physical attacks or tamper resistance. These attacks assume that a direct access to the chip is possible with either establishing electrical connections to signal wires or at least doing some measurements. The importance of protection against physical attacks is dictated by the amount of valuable and sensitive information stored on the chip. This could be secret data or company secrets and intellectual property (IP), electronic money for service access, or banking smartcards. The security in chips serves to deter prospective attackers from performing unauthorized access and benefiting from it. There are many areas that rely on tamper resistance of silicon chips. One of the first was car industry with theft protection and car alarms. Then in the early 1990s service providers such as PayTV, satellite TV, and utility companies realized that their service can be stolen if the access and payment cards are not properly protected. From the late 1990s home entertainment companies realized that their game consoles became the target of dishonest users who wanted to run illegal copies of the games. These days many device manufacturers from computer peripherals and mobile phones to printers and computers are worried about possible IP theft by third parties – either competitors or subcontractors. All the above challenges force hardware engineers to find secure solutions – either better protected off-the-shelf chips or their own custom chips. As in most cases it is impractical to block direct access to the device and its components, protection against physical attacks became the essential part of the system design. These days we have a continuous battle between the manufacturers who invent new security solutions learning their lessons from previous mistakes and the hacker community which is constantly trying to break the protection in various devices. Both sides are also constantly improving their knowledge and experience. In this endless war, the front line shifts forward and backward regularly. Deep down, the problem concerns both economics and law. On the one hand, when dishonest people try to steal property, there will be a demand to increase security. On the other, reverse engineering was always part of technological progress, helping to design compatible products and improve existing ones. The dividing line between legal (reverse engineering) and illegal (piracy) is difficult.


  • Reverse Engineering
  • Chip Surface
  • Central Processor Unit
  • SRAM Cell
  • Security Protection

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Correspondence to Sergei Skorobogatov .

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Skorobogatov, S. (2012). Physical Attacks and Tamper Resistance. In: Tehranipoor, M., Wang, C. (eds) Introduction to Hardware Security and Trust. Springer, New York, NY.

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