June 14, 2021

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Promoting the Acquisition of Hardware Reverse Engineering Skills. (arXiv:2105.13725v1 [cs.CR])

This full research paper focuses on skill acquisition in Hardware Reverse
Engineering (HRE) – an important field of cyber security. HRE is a prevalent
technique routinely employed by security engineers (i) to detect malicious
hardware manipulations, (ii) to conduct VLSI failure analysis, (iii) to
identify IP infringements, and (iv) to perform competitive analyses. Even
though the scientific community and industry have a high demand for HRE
experts, there is a lack of educational courses. We developed a
university-level HRE course based on general cognitive psychological research
on skill acquisition, as research on the acquisition of HRE skills is lacking
thus far. To investigate how novices acquire HRE skills in our course, we
conducted two studies with students on different levels of prior knowledge. Our
results show that cognitive factors (e.g., working memory), and prior
experiences (e.g., in symmetric cryptography) influence the acquisition of HRE
skills. We conclude by discussing implications for future HRE courses and by
outlining ideas for future research that would lead to a more comprehensive
understanding of skill acquisition in this important field of cyber security.