Security threat analyses and attack models for approximate computing systems

Pruthvy Yellu, Landon Buell, Miguel Mark, Michel A. Kinsy, Dongpeng Xu, Qiaoyan Yu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Approximate computing (AC) represents a paradigm shift from conventional precise processing to inexact computation but still satisfying the system requirement on accuracy. The rapid progress on the development of diverse AC techniques allows us to apply approximate computing to many computation-intensive applications. However, the utilization of AC techniques could bring in new unique security threats to computing systems. This work does a survey on existing circuit-, architecture-, and compiler-level approximate mechanisms/algorithms, with special emphasis on potential security vulnerabilities. Qualitative and quantitative analyses are performed to assess the impact of the new security threats on AC systems. Moreover, this work proposes four unique visionary attack models, which systematically cover the attacks that build covert channels, compensate approximation errors, terminate normal error resilience mechanisms, and propagate additional errors. To thwart those attacks, this work further offers the guideline of countermeasure designs. Several case studies are provided to illustrate the implementation of the suggested countermeasures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number32
JournalACM Transactions on Design Automation of Electronic Systems
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Approximate computing
  • approximate arithmetic circuit
  • artificial neural network
  • attack model
  • covert channel
  • edge detection
  • error control
  • fast Fourier transform (FFT)
  • fault tolerance
  • finite impulse response (FIR) filter
  • hardware Trojan
  • phase change memory
  • security threat
  • side-channel attack

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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