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Work in Progress: A Case Study in an Undergraduate Security Project

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Embedded Systems and Cybersecurity in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors

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Garry Ingles


Aaron Carpenter Wentworth Institute of Technology

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Professor Carpenter is an Associate Professor at the Wentworth Institute of Technology. In 2012, he completed his PhD at the University of Rochester, and now focuses his efforts to further the areas of computer architecture, digital systems, cybersecurity, and computer engineering education.

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Recent studies have shown new opportunities for the integration of cybersecurity courses and projects into Electrical and Computer Engineering (and related) departments. This is following the growth of the field in both industry and research. While past research discusses what does and doesn't work, from the perspective of faculty and the department, they leave out an important viewpoint by not including the perspective of the student researcher.

In this work, the authors fill that knowledge gap. This work-in-progress tells the details of an undergraduate security project from the perspective of the student, a rising junior at Wentworth Institute of Technology, an undergraduate-centric institution. The presented case study will show insight into the mind of an undergraduate as they approach and explore a new field through extracurricular research with a supervising professor. Before beginning the project, the undergraduate researcher had experience in digital logic and programming, but little experience in more advanced topics. While working closely with the academic supervisor, the student spent significant amounts of time learning the necessary technical skills. Specifically, the student worked towards recreating a FPGA security technique called “Moats and Bridges” from published research in the computer architecture security community.

FPGA logic blocks are capable of attacking co-resident logic blocks via side-channel attacks to reveal the inner-workings of the victim logic, as demonstrated in existing research in the community. The “Moats and Bridges” technique changes the synthesis process and provides isolation to logic modules. The synthesis process could otherwise lead to placement of logic blocks that breeds vulnerabilities and back channels. The work-in-progress discussed here will primarily focus on understanding and implementing the Moats and Bridges techniques and technology. Through the research, the activities provided insight towards the more fundamental principle of FPGA security and provided technical tasks for the undergraduate.

The goal of the work is to inform undergraduate students of difficulties that may be faced when researching material beyond the scope of their knowledge. A secondary goal is to present techniques to increase fluency with resources and results of the research conducted. Lastly, supervisors can gain insight into how best to prepare and support their researchers, particularly outside of a class or graduate environment.

Ingles, G., & Carpenter, A. (2020, June), Work in Progress: A Case Study in an Undergraduate Security Project Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35592

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