Malicious attacks on computer hardware and embedded systems, such as cloud servers, smartphones and Internet-of-Things devices, are a constant threat. Xuan ‘Silvia’ Zhang, assistant professor of electrical & systems engineering, plans to conduct fundamental research on building a detection framework that would spot these attacks with a nine-month, $300,000 grant from the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). 

Zhang and her collaborator, Yier Jin, associate professor of electrical & computer engineering at the University of Florida, plan to use a cross-layer system infrastructure of the power delivery network, an essential component in electronic systems, to build the framework, which would detect malicious attacks on the computer hardware across chip, board and system levels. They plan to build a prototype system to evaluate its effectiveness and efficiency, then scale up their framework to evaluate its performance on various commercial, off-the-shelf products. The technology developed by the research team will explore novel detection approaches leveraging the subtle changes in the power delivery characteristics to improve detection resolutions and efficiency of traditional methods.

Wired highlighted such malicious attacks that Zhang’s research is working to prevent. 

Zhang and Huifeng Zhu, a doctoral student in her lab, recently received the Best Paper Award from the IEEE Asian Hardware Oriented Security and Trust Symposium (AsianHOST) for their paper titled “PowerScout: A Security-Oriented Power Delivery Network Modeling Framework for Cross-Domain Side-Channel Analysis.” In addition, their paper, “PCBench: Benchmarking of Board-Level Hardware Attacks and Trojans,” was among the Best Paper Award candidates at the 26th Asia and South Pacific Design Automation Conference (ASP-DAC) in January. Zhu was first author of both papers.

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