Top Honors for NYU School of Engineering and NYUAD Researchers at Computer Security Conference

A view of an exterior of the New York University Abu Dhabi campus on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.

Researchers from NYU School of Engineering and NYU Abu Dhabi won the award for the Best Student Paper at last month’s Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Computer and Communications Security, one of the world's top computer security conferences.

The winning paper, "Security Analysis of Integrated Circuit Camouflaging," was deemed the best of 530 submissions and was written by NYU School of Engineering doctoral student Jeyavijayan (JV) Rajendran, NYU School of Engineering undergraduate Michael Sam, NYU School of Engineering Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Ramesh Karri, and NYUAD Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Ozgur Sinanoglu.

Like most devices we use daily, integrated circuits are the product of today's globalized economy. "Chips are designed in one part of the world, fabricated in another, and tested in still yet another," Sinanoglu said. "This distributed production process presents a variety of security vulnerabilities, such as the introduction of hardware Trojans and the potential for counterfeit chips. Our goal is to propose design techniques that will help protect chips."

In the paper, the researchers used a tactic called gate camouflaging that helps protect chips from reverse engineering. Camouflaging involves modifying the gates of an integrated circuit so that attackers would have to resort to a time-consuming process of trial and error to determine the functionality of the camouflaged gates.

"We follow a design-for-trust approach," Sinanoglu explained. "We try to determine what can be done during the design of chips to prepare them for security threats, and what we can do to make our chips resilient to threats. In this paper, we have proposed — for the first time — a more formal and structured design-for-trust approach based on a well-developed theory."

Rajendran, Karri, and Sinanoglu are members of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Security and Privacy (CRISSP), which facilitated their work on this paper. Sinanoglu's collaboration with the researchers from NYU School of Engineering started about three years ago because of their affiliation with CRISSP. "The center has been a great catalyzer in the sense that Prof. Karri and I co-supervise PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, and travel back and forth between New York and Abu Dhabi, thanks to the center's support," Sinanoglu said.

Rajendran, the lead author of the paper, was also awarded the Bronze Medal in a second prestigious challenge, the ACM Student Research Competition for Design Automation, for the camouflaging work.