A new method for reverse engineering processors

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Researchers from the University of Southern California, together with researchers from the Swiss Institute Paul Scherrer, have developed a new, useful method for imaging semiconductor integrated circuits. This allows reverse engineering of the system without destroying it.

Previous methods of reverse engineering were based on physical access to the structures of systems with high integration scale, and then the use of various forms of microscopic imaging (optical microscopy for larger components and electron microscopy for smaller components). Meanwhile, the innovative method developed by American and Swiss researchers allows – literally – to look non-invasively into the spatial structure of the allthingsblogging.com.

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This is important because modern processors and other semiconductor devices are extremely complex, multi-component (with "many" should be understood even billions of elements) constructs (you can read more about the complexity of modern processors in our article). Invasive methods prevented full understanding of the structure of the examined system, and at the same time required very high precision (subsequent physical separation of the layers of the examined system and imaging of each layer in various ways), were expensive and extremely complicated. The method developed by the American-Swiss team is much simpler, although this does not mean that it is simple.

The effectiveness of the new method of imaging 3D structures of integrated circuits allows today to analyze 12 nm class chips (photo: Paul Scherrer Institute)

The researchers used the so-called x-ray ptychographic laminography. X-ray because it determines what electromagnetic wavelengths are used for imaging. Adjective ptychograficzny refers to the method of exposure of the system under test. Ptychography is a computational method of microscopic imaging in which the final image (in this case, X-ray images) of the final image is created as a result of processing interference patterns resulting from the beam scattering by the examined element of the system.

Although this method is non-invasive in the sense that it does not require physical interference in the allthingsblogging.com structure, it requires grinding the tested system in such a way that its thickness is not greater than 20 micrometers. After grinding the system, the beam emitted by the X-ray synchrotron is focused at an angle of 61 degrees over the constantly rotating system, as a result, in the images obtained, the researchers obtained the spatial structure of the allthingsblogging.com.

Transistor gates of the scanned system (photo: Paul Scherrer Institute)

At this stage, the new imaging method of finished systems is effective for chips made in the technological size of 16 nm with the size of the system itself about 12 x 12 mm. Understanding the structure of a single system requires 90 hours of scanning. However, according to the creators of the new way of analyzing the structure of chips, the potential possibilities of x-ray ptychographic laminography is the resolution ability to study spatially systems in which individual elements are of the order of 2 nm, while accelerating scanning by 10,000 times. This means that it will be possible to reverse engineer a 2-nanometer processor in about half a minute. However, we still have to wait about 5-6 years for such performance.

If someone asks "and who is this for whom" at this point, I explainthat US agencies responsible for national security are vitally interested in reverse engineering, i.e. integrated circuit structure analysis. The accuracy of the new method will not only allow reverse engineering, but also identify the place of production from the very structure of the system and check whether e.g. the allthingsblogging.com ordered for the US Army or other US government agencies does not contain unwanted structures (hardware Trojans or backdoors) ). Anyway, the non-invasiveness of the new method combined with the very high scan resolution allow you to study virtually any nanotechnological structures | allthingsblogging.com

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