Paper 2023/1598

Lightweight but Not Easy: Side-channel Analysis of the Ascon Authenticated Cipher on a 32-bit Microcontroller

Léo Weissbart, Radboud University Nijmegen
Stjepan Picek, Radboud University Nijmegen

Ascon is a recently standardized suite of symmetric cryptography for authenticated encryption and hashing algorithms designed to be lightweight. The Ascon scheme has been studied since it was introduced in 2015 for the CAESAR competition, and many efforts have been made to transform this hardware-oriented scheme to work with any embedded device architecture. Ascon is designed with side-channel resistance in mind and can also be protected with countermeasures against side-channel analysis. Up to now, the effort of side-channel analysis is mainly put on hardware implementations, with only a few studies being published on the real-world side-channel security of software implementations. In this paper, we give a comprehensive view of the side-channel security of Ascon implemented on a 32-bit microcontroller for both the reference and a protected implementation. We show different potential leakage functions that can lead to real-world leakages and demonstrate the most potent attacks that can be obtained with the corresponding leakage functions. We present our results using correlation power analysis (CPA) and deep learning-based side-channel analysis and provide a practical estimation of the efforts needed for an attacker to recover the complete key used for authenticated encryption. Our results show that the reference implementation is not side-channel secure since an attacker can recover the full key with 8,000 traces using CPA and around 1,000 traces with deep learning analysis. While second-order CPA cannot recover any part of the secret, deep learning side-channel analysis can recover partial keys with 800 traces on the protected implementation. Unfortunately, the model used for multi-task key recovery lacks the generalization to correctly recover all partial keys for the full key attack.

Available format(s)
Attacks and cryptanalysis
Publication info
Side-channel analysisDeep learningMulti-task learningLightweight cryptographyAuthenticated encryption
Contact author(s)
l weissbart @ cs ru nl
stjepan picek @ ru nl
2023-10-17: approved
2023-10-16: received
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Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Léo Weissbart and Stjepan Picek},
      title = {Lightweight but Not Easy: Side-channel Analysis of the Ascon Authenticated Cipher on a 32-bit Microcontroller},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2023/1598},
      year = {2023},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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