Embedded computing systems represent a critical backbone of infrastructure that society relies on in daily life. They often operate on sensitive data in safety-critical environments, such as transportation, health care, and industrial control. An important aspect of securing embedded electronic systems is to prevent information leakage at the level of system behavior. There exist multiple venues by which an attacker can get such information even without having complete access to the internal system components. Specifically, electromagnetic (EM) fields emanated during software activity in electronic systems contain important information about the underlying system behavior. This project will develop tools that system designers can use to ensure resilience against information being leaked through EM side channels. As part of outreach and education components, this project will develop a short course on physical and IoT security that will use interdisciplinary cybersecurity challenges spanning cryptography, electromagnetics, embedded system, and hardware/software design topics to generate interest in pursuing careers in science and technology.

The only existing capability for EM side-channel analysis is based on cumbersome laboratory measurements. This is a fundamental problem, as most embedded software developers are not in a position to carry out lab-based characterization of EM vulnerabilities. Such characterizations require instrumentation expertise that a typical software engineer lacks, are expensive, provide limited observability, and are slow compared to what a computational tool flow enables. This project will develop novel simulation-based approaches for characterization of EM fields emanated by software running on complex embedded processors. This will require fast yet accurate tracking of spatio-temporal EM emanations all the way from circuits to processor micro-architectures to software running on them. The simulation tool flow to be developed will permit design of improved system-level defenses against malware as well as minimization of side-channel leakage through embedded HW/SW co-design at both compiler and micro-architecture levels.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Computer and Communication Foundations (CCF)
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Sankar Basu
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University of Texas Austin
United States
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