Secure hardware awarded

Max Hoffmann has been awarded the Gebrüder Eickhoff Prize for his doctoral thesis.

Max Hoffmann wins Eickhoff-Price

Copyright: RUB, Marquard

The honor took place on Friday, June 18, 2021. Dr. Oliver Horst from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, also received the Eickhoff Prize 2021 alongside Max Hoffmann.

"We are very pleased that the Eickhoff Prize is now being awarded for the 33rd time," says Dr. Ulf Achenbach, Managing Director of Eickhoff. "As an industrial company, technology and research are particularly important to us. We know from experience that technological progress takes place primarily where universities, research institutions and companies combine."

Backdoors in the hardware

In the modern, digital world, everything revolves around information. Computer systems are regularly attacked by viruses and Trojans to extort users or capture their data. "We all probably know someone who has fallen victim to a computer virus. Fortunately, these can usually be removed with suitable software," explains Max Hoffmann. But what if the backdoor is not in software, but already in the hardware?

In his dissertation, the researcher examined, among other things, how modern digital circuits can be manipulated in such a way that they open almost invisible backdoors for attackers. To do this, Hoffmann looked at the problem from all angles, from novel tools for analyzing digital circuits to advanced techniques for obfuscating functionalities and critically examining existing approaches to the targeted development of Trojanized circuits.

His findings show that detecting such tampering is extremely challenging - not least because there are no limits to an attacker's creativity. "Fortunately, the development and implantation of hardware Trojans is far too expensive and complex for individual hackers," Hoffmann said. "However, actors of appropriate size, such as intelligence agencies, have an extremely dangerous and frighteningly unexplored tool here that is highly rarely the focus of security analyses." In his dissertation, he therefore always considers the research questions under investigation from both, an attacker's and a defender's perspective.

Press contact

Dr. Max Hoffmann
Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology
Horst Görtz Institute for IT Security
Ruhr University Bochum

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