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Breakthrough Silicon Scanning Discovers Backdoor in Military Chip

  • Conference paper

Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNSC,volume 7428)


This paper is a short summary of the first real world detection of a backdoor in a military grade FPGA. Using an innovative patented technique we were able to detect and analyse in the first documented case of its kind, a backdoor inserted into the Actel/Microsemi ProASIC3 chips for accessing FPGA configuration. The backdoor was found amongst additional JTAG functionality and exists on the silicon itself, it was not present in any firmware loaded onto the chip. Using Pipeline Emission Analysis (PEA), our pioneered technique, we were able to extract the secret key to activate the backdoor, as well as other security keys such as the AES and the Passkey. This way an attacker can extract all the configuration data from the chip, reprogram crypto and access keys, modify low-level silicon features, access unencrypted configuration bitstream or permanently damage the device. Clearly this means the device is wide open to intellectual property (IP) theft, fraud, re-programming as well as reverse engineering of the design which allows the introduction of a new backdoor or Trojan. Most concerning, it is not possible to patch the backdoor in chips already deployed, meaning those using this family of chips have to accept the fact they can be easily compromised or will have to be physically replaced after a redesign of the silicon itself.


  • Hardware Assurance
  • silicon scanning
  • side-channel analysis
  • silicon Trojans and backdoors
  • PEA


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© 2012 International Association for Cryptologic Research

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Skorobogatov, S., Woods, C. (2012). Breakthrough Silicon Scanning Discovers Backdoor in Military Chip. In: Prouff, E., Schaumont, P. (eds) Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems – CHES 2012. CHES 2012. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 7428. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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  • Publisher Name: Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-642-33026-1

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-642-33027-8

  • eBook Packages: Computer ScienceComputer Science (R0)