Vulnerabilities of Secure and Reliable Low-Power Embedded Systems and Their Analysis Methods: A Comprehensive Study

Vulnerabilities of Secure and Reliable Low-Power Embedded Systems and Their Analysis Methods: A Comprehensive Study

Norbert Druml (Independent Researcher, Austria), Manuel Menghin (Independent Researcher, Austria), Christian Steger (Graz University of Technology, Austria), Armin Krieg (Infineon Technologies Austria, Austria), Andreas Genser (Infineon Technologies Austria, Austria), Josef Haid (Infineon Technologies Austria, Austria), Holger Bock (Infineon Technologies Austria, Austria) and Johannes Grinschgl (Independent Researcher, Austria)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6194-3.ch005
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Due to the increase in popularity of mobile devices, it has become necessary to develop a low-power design methodology in order to build complex embedded systems with the ability to minimize power usage. In order to fulfill power constraints and security constraints if personal data is involved, test and verification of a design's functionality are imperative tasks during a product's development process. Currently, in the field of secure and reliable low-power embedded systems, issues such as peak power consumption, supply voltage variations, and fault attacks are the most troublesome. This chapter presents a comprehensive study over design analysis methodologies that have been presented in recent years in literature. During a long-lasting and successful cooperation between industry and academia, several of these techniques have been evaluated, and the identified sensitivities of embedded systems are presented. This includes a wide range of problem groups, from power and supply-related issues to operational faults caused by attacks as well as reliability topics.
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Tremendous steps forward in improving the density of silicon integration in recent years have introduced significant challenges for system engineers. An increasing number of new features have been integrated while development and implementation cycles have simultaneously decreased. This System on Chip (SoC) design complexity trend for portal devices is highlighted by Figure 1, as presented by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS Working Group, 2012, ITRS). Apart from consumer electronics, such highly integrated portable SoCs are also used in critical fields with high reliability and security demands. Because of this ever-increasing complexity, exhaustive test coverage of novel designs is difficult to achieve. As a consequence, support of system designers is needed during the whole design phase to test new hardware and software designs for possible weaknesses, as outlined by Ravi et al. (2004).

Figure 1.

Design complexity trend of portable SoCs


In addition to design flaws caused by complexity, there is the increasing fault probability provoked by deep sub-micron silicon integration technologies, as outlined by the latest ITRS report (ITRS Working Group, 2012, ITRS). This is a major issue especially for high safety applications (e.g., automotive, space, aviation). Therefore, a wide variety of fault injection techniques have been developed during the last few years to test the resistance of hardware/software designs against random faults, cf. for example Leveugle (2007).

The portable SoCs’ trend of complexity increase is accompanied by an increase of power consumption, as depicted by Figure 2. This power consumption increase introduces major problems in several aspects. For example, mobile devices come with a limited power budget due to the limitations of batteries: the higher the power consumption, the lower the operational time. As another example, state-of-the-art integrated circuits use low supply voltage levels. This low-voltage approach causes high changing electrical currents, which requires sophisticated power supply networks to cope with the dynamic impedance of the chip. This is especially a problem for energy harvesting systems such as contactless reader / smart card systems.

Figure 2.

Power consumption trend of portable SoCs


In addition to complexity and power consumption challenges, secure embedded systems face the problem of the potential leak of critical information through side channels. A device’s power consumption, for example, may disclose such crucial information, because of its data dependency. Thus, an adversary is able to deduce the internal secrets simply by observing the device’s power consumption.



Given all these complexity, power consumption, and security related issues, system engineers face difficult design challenges these days. Therefore, the objective of this chapter is to present an extensive study of recent challenges in designing low-power and secure embedded systems. Furthermore, this chapter will highlight state-of-the-art design evaluation methodologies used in the industry and will propose some industry-proven design recommendations used to cope with the outlined design challenges.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Fault: A fault constitutes a deviation of normal internal system states or signals. Such deviation could lead to the generation of wrong results, but it could also be masked by the current system state.

Hardware Emulation: Hardware emulation is a technique that integrates a hardware design into a reconfigurable (e.g. FPGA-based) prototyping platform in order to allow the functional testing of a design-under-test including its firmware. This way both hardware and software can be evaluated in a realistic performance setting.

Fault Attack: A fault attack is an intentional manipulation of the integrated circuit or its state, with the aim to provoke an error within the integrated circuit in order to move the device into an unintended state. The goal is to access security critical information or to disable internal protection mechanisms.

System-on-Chip: A System-on-Chip (SoC) is an integrated circuit integrating all circuits and electronics (such as analog, digital, mixed-signal, or RF components) necessary for a system on a single chip.

Error: An error describes a deviation from the expected system behavior caused by a fault. Therefore, an error is a final consequence after a fault was activated and the result is stored by internal or external resources.

Power Emulation: Power emulation extends the hardware emulation technique with power sensors and corresponding power models in order to gather estimated power analysis data of the design-under-test.

Smart Card: A smart card is a device with an integrated circuit including its own memory and central processing unit. Besides a standard contact-based interface, it can also be powered contactlessly by means of an alternating and modulated magnetic field, through which contactless communication is also enabled.

Vulnerability: Vulnerability describes a certain inability of a system to withstand the effects of an attack in a hostile environment.

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