Hardware reverse engineering: Overview and open challenges

Marc Fyrbiak, Sebastian Strauß, Christian Kison, Sebastian Wallat, Malte Elson, Nikol Rummel, Chris­tof Paar

IEEE 2nd International Verification and Security Workshop, IVSW 2017, Thessaloniki, Greece, July 3-5, 2017.


Hardware reverse engineering is a universal tool for both legitimate and illegitimate purposes. On the one hand, it supports confirmation of IP infringement and detection of circuit malicious manipulations, on the other hand it provides adversaries with crucial information to plagiarize designs, infringe on IP, or implant hardware Trojans into a target circuit. Although reverse engineering is commonplace in practice, the quantification of its complexity is an unsolved problem to date since both technical and human factors have to be accounted for. A sophisticated understanding of this complexity is crucial in order to provide a reasonable threat estimation and to develop sound countermeasures, i.e. obfuscation transformations of the target circuit, to mitigate risks for the modern IC landscape. The contribution of our work is threefold: first, we systematically study the current research branches related to hardware reverse engineering ranging from decapsulation to gate-level netlist analysis. Based on our overview, we formulate several open research questions to scientifically quantify reverse engineering, including technical and human factors. Second, we survey research on problem solving and on the acquisition of expertise and discuss its potential to quantify human factors in reverse engineering. Third, we propose novel directions for future interdisciplinary research encompassing both technical and psychological perspectives that hold the promise to holistically capture the complexity of hardware reverse engineering.


tags: Reverse-engineering/IP-protection