We all rely on integrated circuits in our laptops, desktops and mobile devices to communicate access information and store data. But what if the circuits in your computer had their own agenda? As Jia Di, associate professor of computer science and computer engineering, explained, hardware designers could easily insert malicious functionalities into their designs.
“With a few lines of code, they can put in additional functionalities,” said Di. “They could steal your information or modify the data you receive without you knowing.”
This type of code, called hardware descriptive language, or HDL, is used to describe the design of a piece of hardware. Often, companies that make the hardware buy certain designs from third parties, and have no way of knowing if the HDL contains code that could present a security threat. “It would be exhaustively hard to test for these,” said Di.
In spite of this challenge, the Department of Defense is making hardware security a priority, and Di has received a $250,000 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop a way to test hardware designs for malicious elements.
Currently, Di and his students are creating a tool that can look at HDL code and determine all the functionalities it is capable of performing. In the next phase of the project, they will find a way to figure out if any of those functionalities are malicious.
Di is working with Ph.D. students Michael Hinds and Nathan Kuhns and Honors College students John Brady and Jean Pierre Habimana.