SCA secure and updatable crypto engines for FPGA SoC bitstream decryption: extended version

Florian Unterstein*, Nisha Jacob, Neil Hanley, Chongyan Gu, Johann Heyszl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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FPGA system on chips (SoCs) are ideal computing platforms for edge devices in applications which require high performance through hardware acceleration and updatability due to long operation in the field. A secure update of hardware functionality can in general be achieved by using built-in cryptographic engines and provided secret key storage. However, reported examples have shown that such cryptographic engines may become insecure against side-channel attacks at any later point in time. This leaves already deployed systems vulnerable without any clear mitigation options. To solve this, we propose a comprehensive concept that uses an alternative and side-channel protected cryptographic engine within the FPGA logic instead of the built-in one for the crucial task of bitstream decryption. Remarkably this concept even allows to update the cryptographic engine itself. As proof of concept, we describe an application to the Xilinx Zynq-7020 FPGA SoC in detail using a leakage resilient decryption engine. The lack of accessible secret key storage poses a significant challenge and requires the use of a physical unclonable function (PUF) to generate a device intrinsic secret within the FPGA logic. At the same time this means that no manufacturer provided secret key storage or cryptography is required anymore; only a public key for signature verification of the first stage bootloader and initial static bitstream. We provide empirical results proving the side-channel security of the protected cryptographic engine as well as an evaluation of the PUF quality. The full design and source code is made available to encourage further research in this direction.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cryptographic Engineering
Early online date24 Dec 2020
Publication statusEarly online date - 24 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL. This work is partly supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research in the project ALESSIO through grant number 16KIS0629 and by the EPSRC (EP/N508664/-CSIT2).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • AES
  • Leakage resilience
  • PUF
  • Secure boot
  • Zynq

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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