Teaching Hardware Reverse Engineering: Educational Guidelines and Practical Insights

Carina Wiesen, Steffen Becker, Marc Fyrbiak, Nils Albartus, Malte Elson, Nikol Rummel, Chris­tof Paar

2018 IEEE International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE), Wollongong, NSW, 2018, pp. 438-445. (presented in December 2018 in Wollongong, NSW, Australia)


Since underlying hardware components form the ba- sis of trust in virtually any computing system, security failures in hardware pose a devastating threat to our daily lives. Hardware reverse engineering is commonly employed by security engineers in order to identify security vulnerabilities, to detect IP violations, or to conduct very-large-scale integration (VLSI) failure analysis. Even though industry and the scientific community demand experts with expertise in hardware reverse engineering, there is a lack of educational offerings, and existing training is almost entirely unstructured and on the job. To the best of our knowl- edge, we have developed the first course to systematically teach students hardware reverse engineering based on insights from the fields of educational research, cognitive science, and hardware security. The contribution of our work is threefold: (1) we propose underlying educational guidelines for practice-oriented courses which teach hardware reverse engineering; (2) we develop such a lab course with a special focus on gate-level netlist reverse engineering and provide the required tools to support it; (3) we conduct an educational evaluation of our pilot course. Based on our results, we provide valuable insights on the structure and content necessary to design and teach future courses on hardware reverse engineering.