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Security devices are subject to drastic security requirements and certification processes. They must be protected against potentially complex exploits that result from the combination of software and hardware attacks. As a result, a major effort is needed to develop new research techniques and approaches to characterize security issues, as well as to discover multi-layered security vulnerabilities in complex systems.

In recent years, we have witnessed two main lines of research to achieve this objective.

The first approach, often called offensive security, relies on engineering techniques and consists in attacking the system with our knowledge on its design and our past expertise. This is a creative approach that supports (1) checking whether a system is subject to existing vulnerabilities, i.e. classes of vulnerabilities that we already discovered on other systems, and (2) discovering new types of vulnerabilities that were not foreseen and that may depend on new technologies and/or programming paradigms. Unfortunately, this approach is limited to systems whose complexity remains manageable at the human level. This means that exploits which combine several vulnerabilities may be hard to identify. The second and more formal approach builds on formal models (also known as formal methods) to automatically detect vulnerabilities, or prove their absence. This is applicable to systems whose complexity is beyond human reasoning, but can only detect existing classes of vulnerabilities, i.e., those that have been previously characterized by offensive security.

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