Reusing Verification Assertions as Security Checkers for Hardware Trojan Detection

Mohammad Eslami1, Tara Ghasempouri2, Samuel Pagliarini3
1Department of Computer Systems, Tallinn University of Technology, 2Department of Computer System, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia, 3Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech)


Globalization in the semiconductor industry enables fabless design houses to reduce their costs, save time, and make use of newer technologies. However, the offshoring of Integrated Circuit (IC) fabrication has negative sides, including threats such as Hardware Trojans (HTs) - a type of malicious logic that is not trivial to detect. One aspect of IC design that is not affected by globalization is the need for thorough verification. Verification engineers devise complex assets to make sure designs are bug-free, including assertions. This knowledge is typically not reused once verification is over. The premise of this paper is that verification assets that already exist can be turned into effective security checkers for HT detection. For this purpose, we show how assertions can be used as online monitors. To this end, we propose a security metric and an assertion selection flow that leverages Cadence JasperGold Security Path Verification (SPV). The experimental results show that our approach scales for industry-size circuits by analyzing more than 100 assertions for different Intellectual Properties (IPs) of the OpenTitan System-on-Chip (SoC). Moreover, our detection solution is pragmatic since it does not rely on the HT activation mechanism.