Safeguarding SRAMs From IP Theft (Best Paper Award)


A technical paper titled “Beware of Discarding Used SRAMs: Information is Stored Permanently” was published by researchers at Auburn University. The paper won “Best Paper Award” at the IEEE International Conference on Physical Assurance and Inspection of Electronics (PAINE) Oct. 25-27 in Huntsville.

“Data recovery has long been a focus of the electronics industry for decades by security experts, focusing on hard disk recovery, a type of non-volatile memory. Unfortunately, none of the existing research, neither from academia, industry, or government, have ever considered data recovery from volatile memories. The data is lost when it is powered off, by definition. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to present an approach to recovering data from a static random access memory. It is conventional wisdom that SRAM loses its contents whenever it turns off, and it is not required to protect sensitive information, e.g., the firmware code, secret encryption keys, etc., when an SRAM-based computing system retires. Unfortunately, the recycling of integrated circuits poses a severe threat to the protection of intellectual properties. In this paper, we present a novel concept to retrieve SRAM data as aging leads to a power-up state with an imprint of the stored values. We show that our proposed approaches can partially recover the previously used SRAM content. The accuracy of the recovered data can be further increased by incorporating multiple SRAM chips compared to a single one. It is impossible to retrieve the prior content of some stable SRAM cells, where aging shifts these cells towards stability. As the locations of these cells vary from chip to chip due to uncontrollable process variation, the same cell has a higher chance of being unstable or stable against aging in any of the chips, which helps us recover the content. Finally, majority voting is used to combine a set of SRAM chips’ data to recover the stored data. We present our experimental result using commercial off-the-shelf SRAMs with stored binary image data before performing accelerated aging. We demonstrate the successful partial retrieval on SRAMs that are aged with as little as 4 hours of accelerated aging with 85C.”

Find the technical paper here. Published August 2022. Find the Auburn University news article here.

Hovanes, Joshua, Yadi Zhong, and Ujjwal Guin. “Beware of Discarding Used SRAMs: Information is Stored Permanently.” arXiv preprint arXiv:2208.02883 (2022).

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