Paper 2021/1278

A survey of algorithmic methods in IC reverse engineering

Leonid Azriel, Julian Speith, Nils Albartus, Ran Ginosara, Avi Mendelson, and Christof Paar


The discipline of reverse engineering integrated circuits (ICs) is as old as the technology itself. It grew out of the need to analyze competitor’s products and detect possible IP infringements. In recent years, the growing hardware Trojan threat motivated a fresh research interest in the topic. The process of IC reverse engineering comprises two steps: netlist extraction and specification discovery. While the process of netlist extraction is rather well understood and established techniques exist throughout the industry, specification discovery still presents researchers with a plurality of open questions. It therefore remains of particular interest to the scientific community. In this paper, we present a survey of the state of the art in IC reverse engineering while focusing on the specification discovery phase. Furthermore, we list noteworthy existing works on methods and algorithms in the area and discuss open challenges as well as unanswered questions. Therefore, we observe that the state of research on algorithmic methods for specification discovery suffers from the lack of a uniform evaluation approach. We point out the urgent need to develop common research infrastructure, benchmarks, and evaluation metrics.

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Publication info
Published elsewhere. Minor revision.Journal of Cryptographic Engineering
Hardware reverse engineeringSurveyBoolean function learningLogical equivalence checking
Contact author(s)
nils albartus @ rub de
2021-09-27: revised
2021-09-24: received
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      author = {Leonid Azriel and Julian Speith and Nils Albartus and Ran Ginosara and Avi Mendelson and Christof Paar},
      title = {A survey of algorithmic methods in IC reverse engineering},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2021/1278},
      year = {2021},
      doi = {10.1007/s13389-021-00268-5},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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