International Association for Cryptologic Research

International Association
for Cryptologic Research


Björn Scheuermann


Can’t Touch This: Inertial HSMs Thwart Advanced Physical Attacks
Jan Sebastian Götte Björn Scheuermann
In this paper, we introduce a novel countermeasure against physical attacks: Inertial Hardware Security Modules (IHSMs). Conventional systems have in common that their security requires the crafting of fine sensor structures that respond to minute manipulations of the monitored security boundary or volume. Our approach is novel in that we reduce the sensitivity requirement of security meshes and other sensors and increase the complexity of any manipulations by rotating the security mesh or sensor at high speed—thereby presenting a moving target to an attacker. Attempts to stop the rotation are easily monitored with commercial MEMS accelerometers and gyroscopes. Our approach leads to an HSM that can easily be built from off-the-shelf parts by any university electronics lab, yet offers a level of security that is comparable to commercial HSMs. We have built a proof-of-concept hardware prototype that demonstrates solutions to the concept’s main engineering challenges. As part of this proof-of-concept, we have found that a system using a coarse security mesh made from commercial printed circuit boards and an automotive high-g-force accelerometer already provides a useful level of security.