Promoting the Acquisition of Hardware Reverse Engineering Skills

Wiesen, Carina, Steffen Becker, Nils Albartus, Chris­tof Paar, Rummel, Nikol

2019 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), Cincinnati, OH, USA. 2019.


This full research paper focuses on skill acquisition in Hardware Reverse Engineering (HRE) – an important field of cyber security. HRE is a prevalent technique routinely employed by security engineers (i) to detect malicious hardware manipulations, (ii) to conduct VLSI failure analysis, (iii) to identify IP infringements, and (iv) to perform competitive analyses. Even though the scientific community and industry have a high demand for HRE experts, there is a lack of educational courses. We developed a university-level HRE course based on general cognitive psychological research on skill acquisition, as research on the acquisition of HRE skills is lacking thus far. To investigate how novices acquire HRE skills in our course, we conducted two studies with students on different levels of prior knowledge. Our results show that cognitive factors (e.g., working memory), and prior experiences (e.g., in symmetric cryptography) influence the acquisition of HRE skills. We conclude by discussing implications for future HRE courses and by outlining ideas for future research that would lead to a more comprehensive understanding of skill acquisition in this important field of cyber security.


tags: Hardware Reverse Engineering, skill acquisition in cyber security