On the Vulnerability of FPGA Bitstream Encryption against Power Analysis Attacks – Extracting Keys from Xilinx Virtex-II FPGAs

Amir Moradi, Alessandro Barenghi, Timo Kasper, Chris­tof Paar

18th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, CCS 2011, Chicago, IL, USA, October 17-21, 2011, pages 111-124.


Over the last two decades FPGAs have become central components for many advanced digital systems, e.g., video signal processing, network routers, data acquisition and military systems. In order to protect the intellectual property and to prevent fraud, e.g., by cloning a design embedded into an FPGA or manipulating its content, many current FPGAs employ a bitstream encryption feature. We develop a successful attack on the bitstream encryption engine integrated in the widespread Virtex-II Pro FPGAs from Xilinx, using side-channel analysis. After measuring the power consumption of a single power-up of the device and a modest amount of o line computation, we are able to recover all three di erent keys used by its triple DES module. Our method allows extracting secret keys from any real-world device where the bitstream encryption feature of Virtex-II Pro is enabled. As a consequence, the target product can be cloned and manipulated at the will of the attacker since no side-channel protection was included into the design of the decryption module. Also, more advanced attacks such as reverse engineering or the introduction of hardware Trojans become potential threats. While performing the side-channel attack, we were able to deduce a hypothetical architecture of the hardware encryption engine. To our knowledge, this is the rst attack against the bitstream encryption of a commercial FPGA reported in the open literature.

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