Paper 2022/946

ImpedanceVerif: On-Chip Impedance Sensing for System-Level Tampering Detection

Tahoura Mosavirik, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Patrick Schaumont, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Shahin Tajik, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Physical attacks can compromise the security of cryptographic devices. Depending on the attack’s requirements, adversaries might need to (i) place probes in the proximity of the integrated circuits (ICs) package, (ii) create physical connections between their probes/wires and the system’s PCB, or (iii) physically tamper with the PCB’s components, chip’s package, or substitute the entire PCB to prepare the device for the attack. While tamper-proof enclosures prevent and detect physical access to the system, their high manufacturing cost and incompatibility with legacy systems make them unattractive for many low-cost scenarios. In this paper, inspired by methods known from the field of power integrity analysis, we demonstrate how the impedance characterization of the system’s power distribution network (PDN) using on-chip circuit-based network analyzers can detect various classes of tamper events. We explain how these embedded network analyzers, without any modifications to the system, can be deployed on FPGAs to extract the frequency response of the PDN. The analysis of these frequency responses reveals different classes of tamper events from board to chip level. To validate our claims, we run an embedded network analyzer on FPGAs of a family of commercial development kits and perform extensive measurements for various classes of PCB and IC package tampering required for conducting different side-channel or fault attacks. Using the Wasserstein Distance as a statistical metric, we further show that we can confidently detect tamper events. Our results, interestingly, show that even environment-level tampering activities, such as the proximity of contactless EM probes to the IC package or slightly polished IC package, can be detected using on-chip impedance sensing.

Available format(s)
Publication info
Anti-Tamper Power Distribution Network Physical Attacks Physical Layer Security PCB Verification
Contact author(s)
tmosavirik @ wpi edu
pschaumont @ wpi edu
stajik @ wpi edu
2022-10-11: revised
2022-07-21: received
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Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Tahoura Mosavirik and Patrick Schaumont and Shahin Tajik},
      title = {{ImpedanceVerif}: On-Chip Impedance Sensing for System-Level Tampering Detection},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2022/946},
      year = {2022},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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