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Fault injection attack

Fault injection attack definition

A fault injection attack is a security breach where an attacker induces errors or “faults“ in a system to cause it to behave in unintended ways. Typical goals include bypassing security measures, gaining unauthorized access, or leaking sensitive information.

Software testers use fault injection to assess the behavior of a program when faced with errors or unexpected conditions. It involves deliberately injecting faults into a system to observe how it handles them. However, cybercriminals use the same technique for malicious purposes.

See also: differential fault analysis attack, active attack

How a fault injection attack works

  • The attacker first identifies a target system or device. This could be anything from a computer server to a small electronic device.
  • Next, the attacker induces a fault in the target. This can be done in several ways. They could tamper with the system's software (i.e., alter its code) or hardware (like manipulate the device or its electrical inputs). They could also interfere with its network (for example, send malformed data packets).
  • Once the fault has been induced, the attacker can try exploiting it. For example, it might cause the system to bypass a security check, crash and restart in a less secure mode, or leak information.

The specific methods and objectives can vary depending on the target and the attacker's goals. For instance, some attacks might aim to disrupt a system's operation, while others might seek access to sensitive data. What they all have in common is the deliberate induction of faults to create and exploit vulnerabilities.

Prevention of fault injection attacks

  • Secure coding practices can help prevent software-based fault injection attacks. These include input validation (ensuring all inputs are as expected) and error checking. It's also advisable to use programming languages or compilers that offer strong type-checking and memory management features.
  • Redundancy and error checking. Including redundant components and regular checkups for system errors can prevent hardware-based faults from causing major disruptions or security issues.
  • Encryption and secure communications. Strong encryption for data in transit can prevent network-based fault injection attacks from revealing sensitive data. Similarly, secure communication protocols can ensure data integrity and authenticity, preventing attackers from injecting malicious data packets.
  • Regular security testing, such as penetration testing and vulnerability assessments, can help identify potential areas for fault injection attacks. This could include both software and hardware testing.
  • Access controls. Strong access controls can prevent an attacker from gaining the access needed to perform a fault injection attack. This includes both physical (for hardware systems) and logical access controls (for software systems and data).
  • Intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS). These systems can monitor the network for signs of an attack, including fault injection attempts. In case of an incident, they can take preventative action to stop it.