Computer hardware is omnipresent, with more than one trillion semiconductor devices sold in 2018. Such large growth in the number of semiconductor devices is driven by many factors, including the rapidly expanding sector of the Internet of Things (IoT), which has resulted in the proliferation of simple microcontrollers in all kinds of devices, and the ongoing development of customized processors for new applications. For instance, highly customized Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) are used to accelerate various applications, including virtual reality, computer vision, robotics, speech recognition, and autonomous vehicles. Many of these applications previously ran purely in software on a general-purpose processor but are now being migrated to custom chipsets or Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) based systems. However, most of the focus and investments in cybersecurity have historically been on device software and its administrators, not on securing the underlying hardware.
These highly specialized ASIC and FPGA systems control many critical aspects of our daily lives. We trust our computer systems for a variety of different activities, including secure storage and transmission of financial data, identifiable personal information, and biometric data such as facial recognition characteristics and fingerprints. We rely on these datasets to support crucial infrastructure, autonomous vehicle function, and home security. Traditionally, data security was a software-based issue, but the advent of custom hardware applications has led to an increase in hardware-based attacks. As a result, hardware security is becoming more important every day. In order to secure an entire system, it is no longer sufficient to look at software alone – each layer of the computing stack must be analyzed as a system, with hardware being the basis of that system. Therefore, security may be conceptualized as a trust handoff.