How An Attacker Can Kill Your Phone and PC by Making It Older and Some “MAGIC”

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rest-in-peace-phoneShort Bytes: The researchers at NYU have revealed a way of attacking electronic devices by accelerating the aging of electronic chips. The paper titled “MAGIC: Malicious Aging in Circuits/Cores” describes the effects of the MAGIC attack on a smartphone, that could result in the failure of your device.

The performance of an IC degrades over a period of time and it ultimately results in the failure of the device. This is just like the human beings – we age, our body functions stop working and ultimately we die. However, some genetic disorders can make this aging process faster to make you weaker sooner than expected.

Along the similar lines, the researchers at NYU have recently published a paper (find the link below) that shows how to infect the electronic devices with the digital version of this aging disorder.

The computer scientists at NYU have unveiled methods that could be used to attack the device hardware by causing the integrated circuits to age rapidly. The paper titled “MAGIC: Malicious Aging in Circuits/Cores” describes the effects of the MAGIC attack on a smartphone, that could result in the failure of your device.

On one hand the IC designers are putting their tremendous efforts into reducing the aging of electronic chips, the attackers are working in the opposite direction to accelerate the wear. Discussing the Negative-Bias Temperature-Instability (NTBT), the researchers focus on presenting a framework to wear out the processors.

Also read: Crypto Backdoor Isn’t The Only Way To Hack Into Your iPhone

The attack proposed is based on an observation that the major circuit delay is dependent on the input. So, the researchers identified those input patterns in processors and wrote code that generated such instructions.


Thus, by executing that malicious program, an attacker can cause the aging of electronic chips, causing them to fail sooner than expected.

“Think of it this way, if you eat too many cheesy puffs and drink a lot of soda, what happens to you? We essentially put the transistors in the integrated circuit under a lot of stress by force-feeding them,” said Arun Kanuparthi, one of the authors of the paper at NYU.

In the second case of planned obsolescence, the companies are guilty as they intentionally degrade the performance of an older device by accelerating the aging of electronic chips in order to push the sales of their new products. “Companies might want to force consumers to buy newer products,” says Kanuparthi. The third and last case hints at the government-sponsored hardware attack by accelerating the aging of electronic chips to gain backdoor access.

In the research paper, the researchers have outlined some beating mechanisms to avoid such attacks by the intentional aging of electronic chips. If you wish to know how these attacks work and how to mitigate them, you can access the complete research paper here.

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Adarsh Verma

Adarsh Verma

Fossbytes co-founder and an aspiring entrepreneur who keeps a close eye on open source, tech giants, and security. Get in touch with him by sending an email — [email protected]

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