Security is a growing concern in the hardware design world. At all stages of the Integrated Circuit (IC) lifecycle there are attacks which threaten to compromise the integrity of the design through piracy, reverse engineering, hardware Trojan insertion, physical attacks, and other side channel attacks — among other threats. Some of the most notable challenges in this field deal specifically with Intellectual Property (IP) theft and reverse engineering attacks. The IP being attacked can be ICs themselves, circuit designs making up those larger ICs, or configuration information for the devices like Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). Custom or proprietary cryptographic components may require specific protections, as successfully attacking those could compromise the security of other aspects of the system. One method by which these concerns can be addressed is by introducing hardware obfuscation to the design in various forms. These methods of obfuscation must be evaluated for effectiveness and continually improved upon in order to match the growing concerns in this area.

Several different forms of netlist-level hardware obfuscation were analyzed, on standard benchmarking circuits as well as on two substitution boxes from block ciphers. These obfuscation methods were attacked using a satisfiability (SAT) attack, which is able to iteratively rule out classes of keys at once and has been shown to be very effective against many forms of hardware obfuscation. It was ultimately shown that substitution boxes were naturally harder to break than the standard benchmarks using this attack, but some obfuscation methods still have substantially more security than others. The method which increased the difficulty of the attack the most was one which introduced a modified SIMON block cipher as a One-way Random Function (ORF) to be used for key generation. For a substitution box obfuscated in this way, the attack was found to be completely unsuccessful within a five-day window with a severely round-reduced implementation of SIMON and only a 32-bit obfuscation key.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Computer input-output devices--Security measures; Hardware Trojans (Computers)--Prevention; Intellectual property

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Computer Engineering (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

Computer Engineering (KGCOE)


Marcin Lukowiak

Advisor/Committee Member

Stanislaw Radziszowski

Advisor/Committee Member

Michael Kurdziel


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes