Keeping Secrets in Hardware: the Microsoft XBox Case Study

This paper discusses the hardware foundations of the cryptosystem employed by the Xbox video game console from Microsoft. A secret boot block overlay is buried within a system ASIC. This secret boot block decrypts and verifies portions of an external FLASH-type ROM. The presence of the secret boot block is camouflaged by a decoy boot block in the external ROM. The code contained within the secret boot block is transferred to the CPU in the clear over a set of high-speed busses where it can be extracted using simple custom hardware. The paper concludes with recommendations for improving the Xbox security system. One lesson of this study is that the use of a high-performance bus alone is not a sufficient security measure, given the advent of inexpensive, fast rapid prototyping services and high-performance FPGAs.

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