The anatomy of hardware reverse engineering

  • Understanding of microchips, known as Hardware Reverse Engineering (HRE), is driven by analysts’ problem solving. This work sheds light on these hitherto poorly understood problem-solving processes. We propose a methodology addressing the problem of HRE experts being unavailable for research. We developed a training enabling students to acquire intermediate levels of HRE expertise. Besides one expert, we recruited eight top-performing students from this training for our exploratory study. All participants completed a realistic HRE task involving the removal of a copyright protection mechanism from a hardware circuit. We analyzed 2,445 log entries by applying an iterative open coding and developed a detailed hierarchical problem-solving model. Our exploration yielded insights into problem-solving strategies and revealed that two intermediates solved the task with a comparable solution time to the expert. We discuss that HRE problem solving may be a function of both expertise and cognitive abilities, and outline ideas for novel countermeasures.

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Author:Carina Yasmin WiesenGND, Steffen BeckerGND, René WalendyGND, Christof PaarGND, Nikol RummelORCiDGND
Parent Title (German):ACM Transactions on computer-human interaction
Subtitle (English):An exploration of human factors during problem solving
Publisher:Association for Computing Machinery
Place of publication:New York City, New York
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2024/03/01
Date of first Publication:2023/09/12
Publishing Institution:Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universitätsbibliothek
Tag:Problem solving; cognitive abilities; cognitive obfuscation; expertise; iterative open coding
Issue:4, Artikel 62
First Page:62-1
Last Page:62-44
Dewey Decimal Classification:Allgemeines, Informatik, Informationswissenschaft / Informatik
open_access (DINI-Set):open_access
faculties:Fakultät für Informatik
Licence (English):License LogoCreative Commons - CC BY 4.0 - Attribution 4.0 International