Electron Microscope Technology: A Game-Changer for Detecting Hardware Trojans in Electronic Chips

With the rise of technology, the threat of cyber attackers and hackers has also increased. The use of Trojans is one of the most popular ways to gain unauthorized access to an electronic device. Although software vulnerabilities are more widely known, security gaps are also present in the hardware of computers and other electronic devices. Researchers have now developed a method to detect these so-called hardware Trojans in computer chips, identifying them before they can be used to breach a system’s security.

The research team comprised experts from Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, and the Max Planck Institute for Security and Privacy (MPI-SP) in Bochum. They aimed to develop a reliable method to detect hardware trojans by comparing construction plans for chips with electron microscope images of real chips.


The team focused on comparing the construction plans for chips with electron microscope images of chips. They utilized advanced image processing techniques to compare the images of the chips with the original design data. An algorithm was used to scan the pictures for any deviations from the original chip design, indicating the presence of a Trojan.

The researchers successfully detected deviations in 37 out of 40 cases, indicating that the method was accurate. They used image processing methods to match standard cell for standard cell and looked for deviations between the construction plans and the microscopic images of the chips. For chip sizes of 90, 65, and 40 nanometers, the team successfully identified all modifications. The researchers reported that with more than 1.5 million standard cells examined, this was an excellent success rate.

Daniel Puschner, one of the researchers, lauded the accuracy of the method developed: “With more than 1.5 million standard cells examined, this is a very good rate.”

Marcelo Becker, an expert in semiconductor and electronics engineering, stated that “scanning electron microscopes do exist that are specifically designed to take images of chips.” He added that the method could be improved with the use of machine learning to detect changes in the smallest chips that may have been missed.

Open access data release

The researchers released all images of the chips, design data, and analysis algorithms online for free so that other research groups can use the data to conduct further studies. The release of the open-access data is essential for the further improvement of hardware security in electronic devices worldwide.

The research team has developed a new method to detect hardware Trojans in computer chips, which is a significant breakthrough in the hardware security of electronic devices. Their methodology is highly reliable and accurate, and can detect Trojans in chips of varying sizes. The release of open-access data is a positive step towards further study and improvement of hardware security, which is essential in the fight against cyber-attacks and hacking. As technology advances, this research provides hope that we can keep up with the ever-evolving security threats on the horizon.

Explore more