Asadi Receives NSF CAREER Award to Protect ICs from Optical Attacks

ECE Assistant Professor Navid Asadi has received an NSF CAREER Award in support of his project, “Backside Protection Against Contactless Optical Attacks on Integrated Circuits in Advanced Technology Nodes.” Dr. Asadi also serves as co-director of the SCAN Lab at the Florida Institute for Cybersecurity (FICS) Research and associate director of the Micro-Electronics Security Training (MEST) Center. The project works to assess the security vulnerabilities of modern Integrated Circuits (ICs) against “contactless optical attacks from backside” and to provide a framework to develop proper countermeasures. The project will leverage access to state-of-the-art equipment and expertise available at FICS Research’s SCAN Lab, home to more than $10M of advanced imaging equipment for electronics physical assurance.

From the project abstract:

In this project, we (1) investigate potential security vulnerabilities of modern ICs to backside optical attacks and develop security metrics to identify the vulnerable modules in a device; (2) develop low area and power overhead circuit-based solutions to detect and/or prevent optical probing, (3) develop material and packaging based countermeasures to mitigate the backside attacks, and finally (4) evaluate the proposed countermeasures against real attacks in silicon using commercial chips or fabricated prototypes.

The project focuses on critical vulnerabilities in modern ICs—in particular the system-on-chips (SoCs) in different applications from automobiles to military, and critical infrastructures—areas where security is of paramount concern. Dr. Asadi’s team will develop innovative methods against optical probing attacks at circuit-, material- and packaging-levels. Once the critical vulnerabilities are assessed and determined, countermeasures will be designed, implemented, and evaluated.

There is an educational component to the project as well. Students will receive training in advanced instrumentations, and new educational materials on optical attacks and countermeasures will be developed.

The project will will utilized state-of-the-art optical equipment—the Hamamatsu PHEMOS 1000— at FICS Research’s SCAN Lab. The Phemos 1000 is a high-resolution optical emission microscope in the near infrared (NIR) spectrum, able to localize failures in semiconductor devices by detecting the light emissions caused by semiconductor device defects.

The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.