From left, Patrick Schaumont, Fatemeh Ganji, Berk Sunar, Ulkuhan Guler, Shahin Tajik

WPI Expands Cybersecurity Research with NSF-Funded Microscope and High-Performance Computers

Fatemeh Ganji Leads Work with New Equipment That Is First of Its Kind in New England
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May 04, 2022
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New microscope at WPI

Cybersecurity microscope in the Vernam Lab

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers led by Fatemeh Ganji have installed on campus a powerful microscope that is the first of its kind in New England and a critical piece of equipment in the development of a research center focused on semiconductor cybersecurity.

Ganji, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and other WPI researchers will use the new photon emission/laser fault injection microscope for research, teaching, and collaborations with academic and industry researchers as part of a three-year project. These microscopes use infrared light and high magnification lenses to examine semiconductors such as computer chips.

“Some U.S. semiconductor companies with global supply chains rely on foreign makers to produce electronic chips and boards that go into smartphones, computers, satellites, cars, self-driving cars, and more,” Ganji said. “It’s important to ensure the integrity of those devices as they move through supply chains. With this microscope, we can inspect electronic chips at the level of individual transistors, which enables research into how the industry can secure and safeguard semiconductors from malicious tampering, counterfeiting, and physical attacks.”

The microscope and project were funded by a $360,608 National Science Foundation grant.

WPI researchers who are collaborating on Ganji’s project are Assistant Professor Ulkuhan Guler, Professor Patrick Schaumont, Professor Berk Sunar, and Assistant Professor Shahin Tajik, all of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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Image of a computer chip as seen by the microscope

Microscope image of computer chip

The microscope was installed at WPI’s Vernam Lab as the university develops a new research center focused on the security of semiconductors and hardware that are critical to key innovation industries. WPI has been awarded nearly $1 million by the state to acquire additional equipment for the center.

With a camera that operates at sub-zero temperatures for optimal images, the new microscope can measure the photons emitted by working transistors of electronic chips so that users can analyze the activity of various areas on integrated circuits. Researchers can also use lasers to discover fault-sensitive regions on a chip.

Combined with high-performance computers, the equipment will allow WPI students and faculty to expand research that will improve the security and reliability of semiconductors used in critical industries such as health care, national intelligence, finance, transportation, and defense.

“Traditional methods of examining semiconductors with high resolutions rely on physical probing of the integrated circuits and, in the process, destroy them,” said Tajik. “This new microscope relies on the power of light to reveal what is happening in a device.”

The team has reached out to potential research collaborators through annual industry-academic New England Hardware Security events co-organized by WPI. In addition, the researchers are developing a new WPI course for students who will be working with the microscope.

Cybersecurity Experts

Fatemeh Ganji
Fatemeh Ganji

Before joining the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Fatemeh was a Post Doctoral Associate at the University of Florida (from 2018-2020) and at the Telecom Innovation Laboratories/Technical University of Berlin (from 2017-2018). She defended her dissertation with the title "On the Learnability of Physically Unclonable Functions" at the Technical University of Berlin, with an overall grade of "distinction" (= summa cum laude). For her dissertation, she was awarded the BIMoS Ph.D.

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Shahin Tajik
Shahin Tajik

I joined Worcester Polytechnic Institute in July 2020 as an assistant research professor. Before joining WPI, I was an assistant research professor at Florida Institute for Cybersecurity (FICS) Research at University of Florida. I received my Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering in 2017 from the working group SECT, a collaboration of the Technical University of Berlin and Deutsche Telekom Innovation Laboratories in Germany.

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Patrick Schaumont
Patrick Schaumont

I joined Worcester Polytechnic Institute in January 2020. Before that, I was a faculty member at Virginia Tech and a researcher at IMEC in Belgium. My research interests are in hardware security related topics, a field that gained enormous traction over the past two decades. I work on challenges in cryptographic engineering, and on making systems secure and tamper resistant. My students have built numerous demonstrators which has driven my research in attacks and countermeasures against faults and side-channel analysis.

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Berk Sunar
Berk Sunar

I received my PhD in ECE from Oregon State University in December 1998 and worked briefly as a member of the research faculty at OSU's Information Security Laboratory. In 2000 I joined WPI as an assistant professor. My research interests include applied cryptography and cybersecurity; 

For personal website please visit https://sunar.org

 

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Ulkuhan Guler
Ulkuhan Guler

My research interests lie in the broad area of circuits and systems, and my primary area of interest is analog/mixed signal integrated circuits. More specifically, I am interested in the circuit design of sensing interfaces and energy harvesting and wireless power transmission systems for applications in the IoT.

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