Embedded Systems Challenge

Capture the Chip

To attack or to defend, that is the question. Prove your prowess to exploit or fight off attacks at the hardware level.

Trusted computing relies on dedicated and trusted hardware platforms. The security and trustworthiness of hardware platforms is critical to several applications ranging from credit cards to traffic monitoring systems to missile control. Recent attacks on hardware platforms such as tampering, reverse engineering, and malicious circuits insertion highlight the importance of designing secure and trustworthy hardware.

The annual Embedded Systems Challenge (ESC) focuses on the red-team/blue- team approach to assessing the trustworthiness of hardware. Teams are invited to participate in this challenge and attack a target hardware platform. They will discover vulnerabilities in the target platform and exploit them by using their hardware design skills. Such attacks lead to a better understanding of the vulnerabilities in hardware platforms and thereby enable designers to build trustworthy hardware that can thwart such attacks.

The 2012 edition of ESC will begin in September 2012 and culminate in the final competition at CSAW held at the School of Engineering, Brooklyn, New York on November 16, 2012.

The 2012 Challenge

The Embedded Systems Challenge 2012 is about detecting hardware trojans in a design. In this challenge, we are trying to emulate the following scenario. Alice, a designer has sent her design to an off-shore foundry owned by Mallory. Mallory supposedly had inserted hardware trojans in some of the chips that she had manufactured. Alice’s challenge is to test each of the manufactured chips and classify which chips are infected with trojans and which chips are trojan-free. To achieve this purpose, she employs one or more of the following trojan-detection techniques:

  1. Functional test: Create special functional test patterns to activate the trojan and observe its effect at the output.
  2. Side-channel analysis: Analyze the delay, power consumption, or both parameters of the chip, and distinguish the impact of trojan on these parameters from that of process variations.

Teams have to submit an initial report on their possible ideas on detecting trojans. Based on the report, finalists will be selected.

Event Registration

Participants must register by September 21, 2012, at which time they will be sent the full challenge details. The preliminary round consists of an abstract of the approach to be used in meeting the challenge. The preliminary round abstract is due by September 21, 2012, and from them finalists will be selected by September 24, 2012.

Finalists will be funded to travel to the School of Engineering (transportation and hotel), where their final challenge reports will be judged and winners selected at CSAW 2012. Winners will receive cash prizes and scholarships for the School of Engineering.

For more information, send an email.

Cash prizes for winners:

  • 1st place: $1,000
  • 2nd place: $750
  • 3rd place: $500

Important Dates and Information

  • Open to: High school, undergraduates and graduate students located in the U.S. and Canada
  • Registration Link: Register online
  • Challenge captain: Jeyavijayan Rajendran
  • Registration deadline: September 21, 2012 (extended)
  • Report submission deadline for Preliminary round: September 21, 2012 (extended)
  • Finalists selected: September 28, 2012
  • Finals in NYC: November 16, 2012


  • Case Western Reserve University - Nanoscape Team
  • Esisar - Esis'hack
  • Grenoble INP, ESISAR - ESISAR Hardware Trojans Finder
  • Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur - KGPians
  • Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India - Dynamite
  • Iowa State University
  • The School of Engineering - Trojan Hunters
  • UC San Diego
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • University of South Florida - NarMOS
  • Vanderbilt University - Commodores


  • TBD


Event FAQ

Past Winners


All the submitted designs and reports will be open to the public after the competition.