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PhD Opportunity at University of Liverpool – “Investigation into hardware security of low-power embedded systems”

PhD Opportunity at University of Liverpool – “Investigation into hardware security of low-power embedded systems”

Project title: Investigation into hardware security of low-power embedded systems


There is global consensus on the importance of embedded systems in a number of application domains including autonomous mobile systems, internet of things, medical monitoring, robotics, autonomous avionics etc. However, full utilisation of embedded systems is currently threatened by challenges posed by security of the underlying hardware that realise such systems. A recently published report estimated that the loss to US economy is $7.5 billion per year from counterfeit semiconductors alone [1]. In the UK, a recent study concluded that a cyber-attack on a carefully selected target, for example electric company that supplies electric power to domestic and industrial users, can cause serious damage to the British economy. It estimated the immediate direct and indirect impact to be about £12.9 billion and also estimated that it will take up to 2 years to fully recover with total loss of £49 billion to the GDP [2]. This case study analysed the potential mayhem caused by Trojan deployed in an embedded system in an electric company. Trojan is a rogue piece of hardware that is secretly deployed through deception for a number of reasons, including information gathering, false signalling and control etc. This project will address challenges that facilitate counterfeit semiconductors and hardware Trojans.

The issue of counterfeit semiconductors will be addressed by developing smart counter measures to minimise un-authorised access of hardware logic, which is the primary mechanism that reverse engineers use to understand and replicate logic. Proposed methods will camouflage logic cells and also devise a protection mechanism for embedded systems that will be triggered upon observing a number of events. The challenges posed by hardware Trojan will be addressed by detecting and alienating embedded systems that are affected by Trojans. This will be achieved by designing a low-cost digital logic. Particular emphasis will be on rigorous validation of proposed approach and its impact on performance, power and area overhead.

Candidate specification: They should have a strong background in digital system design, micro-electronics and embedded systems with a degree in Electronics Engineering (or related disciplines) with excellent hardware and software programming skills, for example: C/C++, Verilog/VHDL, SPICE, Python and EDA design tools (Cadence, Mentor Graphics, Synopsys). Preference will be given to candidates with prior research experience as demonstrated by publication(s) in well-reputed conferences/journals.

Start date of PhD programme: Immediate



UK/EU students:  This is a fully funded position for UK/EU students and covers their tuition fee and living expenses.

Non UK/EU students: Only tuition fee will be covered for non EU/UK students.  They will have to find additional funding to support their living expenses.

For more information, please contact Dr Saqib Khursheed at s.khursheed@liverpool.ac.uk

Application webpage: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research/how-to-apply/


  1. Semiconductor Counterfeiting is a Global Problem, Dylan McGrath, EE Times, July 2017.
  2. Integrated infrastructure: Cyber resiliency in society, Cambridge centre for Risk Studies, University of Cambridge, January 2016.