Modern Microprocessor Architectures Lab

Research at the Modern Microprocessor Architectures (MoMA) Lab at New York University Abu Dhabi explores all aspects of modern microprocessors, including, but not limited to:

  • encrypted computation
  • robustness
  • security
  • performance
  • low-power design

Active Projects

  • Robust Microprocessors
  • Modern microprocessors are ubiquitously deployed in a wide variety of applications, from personal computers, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones for personal use, to space and automotive applications. It has been reported that the average household in the United States includes on average 40 microprocessors, premium class automobiles carry at least 75 embedded processors, while even low-profile vehicles can still include at least 50 processors.

    Therefore, ensuring the integrity of a microprocessor is paramount, as security breaches can range from simple information leakage to life-threatening situations. Microprocessor designers incorporate extended security features in latest designs, in an effort to protect the system from external attacks. Due to the globalized supply chain, however, the final design may be tampered with during the design cycle and eventually fail to satisfy the security properties set forth by the designers.

    Given the vast choice of intellectual property (IP) cores, circuit designers as well as system integrators can focus on the development of system architectures instead of manually designing, testing and implementing common functional modules. The wide usage of IP cores, however, comes at the cost of decreased security. Before eventually reaching the system integrator, an IP core has traveled through many stages and is modified by various design houses. There are plenty of design stages for attackers to insert malicious logic in the IP core throughout the whole IP transaction process. Such modifications, commonly referred to as hardware trojans, are purportedly done without the knowledge of the IP consumer. The additional functionality can be exploited by an attacker in order to cause catastrophic results, in case the functional module is embedded into mission-critical devices. Recently, silicon scanning revealed a backdoor in military chips, allowing the attacker to disable all the security of the chip. This discovery further emphasizes the need for malicious modification research, as the compromised chips are already deployed in the field.