Beware Your Standard Cells! On Their Role in Static Power Side-Channel Attacks

Jitendra Bhandari, Likhitha Mankali, Mohammed Nabeel, Ozgur Sinanoglu, Ramesh Karri, Johann Knechtel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Static or leakage power, which is especially prominent in advanced technology nodes, enables so-called static power side-channel attacks (S-PSCA). While countermeasures exist, they often incur considerable overheads. Besides, hardware Trojans represent another threat. Although the interplay between static power, down-scaling of technology nodes, and the vulnerability to S-PSCA is already established, an important detail was not covered yet: the role of the components at the heart of this sensitive interplay, the standard cells. Here, we study this intricate relationship for two commercial 28nm and 65nm technologies, using a commercial-grade IC design setup, and under realistic PPA objectives. Specifically, we study how threshold-voltage (VT) tuning of standard cells impacts the resilience of representative AES and PRESENT cipher hardware, including versions with established countermeasures. Our proposed CAD framework enables a security-vs-PPA-aware designspace exploration. Contrary to the belief that high-performance designs are generally more vulnerable to S-PSCA, we find that timing constraints and the distribution of different VT cells are more pivotal factors. Furthermore, we discover that attackers can deploy highly effective and stealthy S-PSCA-based Trojans, all without any gate overheads or any timing violations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages1
JournalIEEE Transactions on Computer-Aided Design of Integrated Circuits and Systems
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • CAD
  • Hardware
  • Hardware Security
  • Integrated circuits
  • Security
  • Side-channel attacks
  • Standards
  • Timing
  • Trojan horses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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