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Reverse Engineering Flash EEPROM Memories Using Scanning Electron Microscopy

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Smart Card Research and Advanced Applications (CARDIS 2016)

Part of the book series: Lecture Notes in Computer Science ((LNSC,volume 10146))

Abstract

In this article, a methodology to extract Flash EEPROM memory contents is presented. Samples are first backside prepared to expose the tunnel oxide of floating gate transistors. Then, a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) in the so called Passive Voltage Contrast (PVC) mode allows distinguishing ‘0’ and ‘1’ bit values stored in individual memory cell. Using SEM operator-free acquisition and standard image processing technique we demonstrate the possible automating of such technique over a full memory. The presented fast, efficient and low cost technique is successfully implemented on 0.35 \(\mu m\) technology node microcontrollers and on a 0.21 \(\mu m\) smart card type integrated circuit. The technique is at least two orders of magnitude faster than state-of-the-art Scanning Probe Microscopy (SPM) methods. Without adequate protection an adversary could obtain the full memory array content within minutes. The technique is a first step for reverse engineering secure embedded systems.

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Correspondence to Franck Courbon .

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Courbon, F., Skorobogatov, S., Woods, C. (2017). Reverse Engineering Flash EEPROM Memories Using Scanning Electron Microscopy. In: Lemke-Rust, K., Tunstall, M. (eds) Smart Card Research and Advanced Applications. CARDIS 2016. Lecture Notes in Computer Science(), vol 10146. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-54669-8_4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-54669-8_4

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