A Bus Authentication and Anti-Probing Architecture Extending Hardware Trusted Computing Base off CPU Chips and beyond

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Date of Original Version



Tamper-proof hardware designs present a great challenge to computer architects. Most existing research limits hardware trusted computing base (TCB) to a CPU chip and anything off the CPU chip is vulnerable to probing and tampering. This paper introduces a new hardware design that provides strong defenses against physical attacks on interconnecting buses between chips in a computer system thereby extending the hardware TCB beyond CPU chips. The new approach is referred to as DIVOT: Detecting Impedance Variations Of Transmission-lines (Tx-lines). Every Tx-line in a computer system, such as a bus and interconnection wire has a unique, intrinsic, and fingerprint-like property: Impedance Inhomogeneity Pattern (IIP), i.e. the impedance distribution over distance. Such unpredictable, uncontrollable, and non-reproducible IIP fingerprints can be used to authenticate a Tx-line to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of data being transmitted. In addition, physical probes perturb the electromagnetic (EM) field around a Tx-line, leading to an altered IIP. As a result, runtime monitoring of IIPs can also be used to actively detect physical probing, snooping, and wire-tapping on buses. While the physics behind the IIP is known, the major technical breakthrough of DIVOT is the new integrated time domain reflectometer, iTDR, that is capable of carrying out in-situ and runtime monitoring of a Tx-line without interfering with normal data transfers. The iTDR is based on two innovations: analog-to-probability conversion (APC) and probability density modulation (PDM). The iTDR performs runtime IIP measurements noninvasively and is CMOS-compatible allowing it to be integrated with any interface logic connected to a bus. DIVOT is a generic, scalable, cost-effective, and low-overhead security solution for any computer system from servers to embedded computers in smart mobile devices and IoTs. To demonstrate the proposed architecture, a working prototype of DIVOT has been built on an FPGA as a proof of concept. Experimental results clearly showed the feasibility and performance of DIVOT for both hardware authentication and tamperproof applications. More specifically, the probability of correctly identifying a bus is close to 1 with an equal error rate (EER) of less than 0.06% at room temperature. We present an example design that incorporates DIVOT into an off-chip memory bus to protect against physical attacks including probing/snooping, tampering, and cold boot attacks.

Publication Title

Proceedings - International Symposium on Computer Architecture