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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Daniel Holcomb

Subject Categories

Digital Circuits | Hardware Systems | VLSI and Circuits, Embedded and Hardware Systems


Semiconductors are a 412 billion dollar industry and integrated circuits take on important roles in human life, from everyday use in smart-devices to critical applications like healthcare and aviation. Saving today's hardware systems from attackers can be a huge concern considering the budget spent on designing these chips and the sensitive information they may contain. In particular, after fabrication, the chip can be subject to a malicious reverse engineer that tries to invasively figure out the function of the chip or other sensitive data. Subsequent to an attack, a system can be subject to cloning, counterfeiting, or IP theft. This dissertation addresses some issues concerning the security of hardware systems in such scenarios. First, the issue of privacy risks from approximate computing is investigated in Chapter 2. Simulation experiments show that the erroneous outputs produced on each chip instance can reveal the identity of the chip that performed the computation, which jeopardizes user privacy. The next two chapters deal with camouflaging, which is a technique to prevent reverse engineering from extracting circuit information from the layout. Chapter 3 provides a design automation method to protect camouflaged circuits against an adversary with prior knowledge about the circuit's viable functions. Chapter 4 provides a method to reverse engineer camouflaged circuits. The proposed reverse engineering formulation uses Boolean Satisfiability (SAT) solving in a way that incorporates laser fault injection and laser voltage probing capabilities to figure out the function of an aggressively camouflaged circuit with unknown gate functions and connections. Chapter 5 addresses the challenge of secure key storage in hardware by proposing a new key storage method that applies threshold-defined behavior of memory cells to store secret information in a way that achieves a high degree of protection against invasive reverse engineering. This approach requires foundry support to encode the secrets as threshold voltage offsets in transistors. In Chapter 6, a secret key storage approach is introduced that does not rely on a trusted foundry. This approach only relies on the foundry to fabricate the hardware infrastructure for key generation but not to encode the secret key. The key is programmed by the IP integrator or the user after fabrication via directed accelerated aging of transistors. Additionally, this chapter presents the design of a working hardware prototype on PCB that demonstrates this scheme. Finally, chapter 7 concludes the dissertation and summarizes possible future research.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License