Evaluating Assertion Set Completeness to Expose Hardware Trojans and Verification Blindspots

  • Authors:
    Nicole Fern (UC/Santa Barbara), K.T. Tim Cheng (UC/Santa Barbara)
    Publication ID:
    Publication Type:
    Received Date:
    Last Edit Date:
    2634.001 (University of California/Santa Barbara)


Assertion-based verification has been adopted by industry as an efficient specification mechanism. Handwritten assertions encode design intent in a parsable format and have been traditionally used to verify an implementation conforms to the properties outlined by the assertions. Our work makes the observation that design behavior not covered by the assertion set is equally revealing and can be leveraged to identify malicious behavior (hardware Trojans) as well as verification blindspots. The difficulty in examining this unspecified and unverified behavior is differentiating between benign functionality that is truly don't care and that which leaks information or violates design intent. Prior work exploring assertion set completeness suffers from this inability to distinguish benign unspecified functionality from actual verification holes, while existing Trojan detection techniques can differentiate these categories, but require unspecified functionality already be characterized. Our technique uses the assertion set and simulation trace data available in most industry design flows to characterize unspecified functionality then separates Trojans and verification blindspots from benign behavior using existing Trojan detection methods. Using our technique, we uncover missing functionality in a first-in first-out (FIFO) queue implementation and demonstrate detection of information leakage Trojans. We also illustrate Trojan detection for a system containing several components connected by an AXI4-Lite bus by analyzing the completeness of the AXI4-Lite assertion set provided by ARM.

4819 Emperor Blvd, Suite 300 Durham, NC 27703 Voice: (919) 941-9400 Fax: (919) 941-9450

Important Information for the SRC website. This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. By continuing to use our site, you consent to our cookies. If you are not happy with the use of these cookies, please review our Cookie Policy to learn how they can be disabled. By disabling cookies, some features of the site will not work.