Hardware Security for Contactless 3-D Integrated Circuits

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  • Competition Funded Project (Students Worldwide)
This research project is one of a number of projects at this institution. It is in competition for funding with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding. Applications for this project are welcome from suitably qualified candidates worldwide. Funding may only be available to a limited set of nationalities and you should read the full department and project details for further information.

Project description

Hardware security has become a pressing issue for a broad variety of integrated systems developed for applications that process and/or store sensitive personal data. Although there are plenty of security methods to cipher this data, there has also been shown that several types of attacks can breach security thereby accessing the crucial data. A specific type of these threats, known more broadly as side-channel attacks [1], is called power analysis attacks [2] where the information about the encryption algorithm of the circuit and the key can be obtained by observing the power profile of the circuit (typically by non-invasively accessing some of its power pins).
The research question that this project intends to address is how these threats manifest for three-dimensional (3-D) circuits [3] and how they can be mitigated. In principle, the stacking of circuits is considered to increase the security strength of the system; however, this may not be the case for contactless 3-D circuits where power is also transferred wirelessly through on-chip inductors.
The student will investigate whether similar security attacks as those to RF tags can be applied to this type of circuits and propose countermeasures for this type of attacks. Obfuscation methods, modulation of the transferred power to mask the power profile of the executed by the circuit task are some possible ways to address these security issues. The focus will be on sensing based systems which process, extract, and potentially store sensitive medical information.
This PhD project offers an exciting opportunity to work primarily in developing new ideas that will lead to novel design methods for securing this type of 3-D circuits. The student will have the opportunity to design test circuits through multi-project wafer services and thus evaluate the efficiency of the proposed methods through silicon measurements. Consequently, high quality and impactful publications are expected to be produced during the course of this project. Circuit design skills, knowledge of 3-D integration and heterogeneous technologies as well as deep understanding of hardware security will be acquired, all of which are key elements for careers in the semiconductor and more broadly the electronics industry.
[1] S. M. D. Pozo, F.-X. Standaert, D. Kamel, and A. Moradi, "Side-Channel Attacks from Static Power: When Should we Care?," Proceedings of the Design, Automation and Test in Europe, pp. 145-150, March 2015.
[2] S. Mangard, E. Oswald, and T. Popp, "Power Analysis Attacks Revealing the Secrets of Smart Cards," Springer Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems, 2007.
[3] V. F. Pavlidis, I. Savidis, and E. G. Friedman, Three-Dimensional Integrated Circuit Design, 2nd Edition, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, June 2017.

Person specification

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Applicants will be required to evidence the following skills and qualifications.

  • You must be capable of performing at a very high level.
  • You must have a self-driven interest in uncovering and solving unknown problems and be able to work hard and creatively without constant supervision.


Applicants will be required to evidence the following skills and qualifications.

  • You will possess determination (which is often more important than qualifications) although you'll need a good amount of both.
  • You will have good time management.


Applicants will be required to address the following.

  • Discuss your final year Undergraduate project work - and if appropriate your MSc project work.
  • How well does your previous study prepare you for undertaking Postgraduate Research?
  • Comment on your transcript/predicted degree marks, outlining both strong and weak points.
  • Why do you believe you are suitable for doing Postgraduate Research?
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