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Applied Physical Attacks on X86 Systems

19th - 20th Sept   |    2 Days


Joseph FitzPatrick



This course introduces and explores attacks on several different relatively accessible interfaces on x86 systems. Attendees will get hands-on experience implementing and deploying a number of low-cost hardware devices to enable access, privilege, and deception which is in some cases imperceptible from software.
The course has several modules. Each begins with an architectural overview of an interface, and follows with a series of labs for hands-on practice understanding, observing, interacting with, and exploiting the interface, finishing with either potentially exploitable crashes or directly to root shells.
Depending on allotted time, topic interest, and class pace, not all topics will be covered completely, but all materials are included for reference and individual practice.


This course targets an x86-based windows tablet and an x86-based development board. Together they are representative of a wide range of x86 platforms that span tablets, laptops, desktops, and servers. While there are many shared concepts and tools, the content of Applied Physical Attacks on Embedded Systems stands on its own and is more relevant to consumer electronics, medical devices, industrial control hardware, and mobile devices.


This course is geared toward pen testers, developers and others with a security background who wish to learn how to take advantage of physical access to systems to assist and enable other attacks. No hardware or electrical background is required. Computer architecture knowledge and low-level programming experience helpful but not required.


20% lecture
70% Lab
10% discussion


1. USB

  • Background: USB Architecture and background
  • Lab 1: Mapping out USB
  • Lab 2: Sniffing and Parsing USB
  • Lab 3: Attacking via USB
  • Lab 4: Fuzzing via USB

2. BIOS and SPI

  • Background: Early Boot and SPI interface
  • SPI Lab 1: Dumping SPI from Software
  • SPI Lab 2: Sniffing and Parsing SPI
  • SPI Lab 3: Dumping SPI from Hardware
  • SPI Lab 4: Firmware Analysis


  • Background: Uses of SMBUS in x86 systems
  • SMBus Lab 1: Mapping out SMBUS
  • SMBus Lab 2: Sniffing and Parsing SMBus
  • SMBus Lab 3: Attacking SMBus as a Master
  • SMBus Lab 4: Attacking SMBus as a Slave

4. PCIe

  • Background: PCIe Architecture and Topology
  • PCIe Lab 1: Hardware and Software Setup
  • PCIe Lab 2: Dumping and Analyzing Memory
  • PCIe Lab 3: Bypassing Authentication


  • Background: JTAG History and Purpose
  • JTAG Lab 1: Hardware and Software Setup
  • JTAG Lab 2: Escalating Privilege via Kernel
  • JTAG Lab 3: Escalating Privilege via a Process

Topics in development:

1. DRAM (planned for mid 2017)

  • Background: DRAM usage and physical constraints
  • DRAM Lab 1: Malicious SPD and Configuration
  • DRAM Lab 2: Rowhammer-style attacks
  • DRAM Lab 3: Low Cost Physical Aquisition

2. SATA (planned for late 2017)

  • Background: SATA Architecture
  • SATA Lab 1: Malicious Disk Firmware
  • SATA Lab 3: TBD

About the Trainers

Joseph FitzPatrick (@securelyfitz)
Joseph FitzPatrick (@securelyfitz) has spent a decade working on low-level silicon debug, security validation, and penetration testing of CPUS, SOCs, and microcontrollers. He develops and delivers hardware security training at, including Applied Physical Attacks on x86 Systems. In between, he keeps busy with contributions to the NSA Playset and other misdirected hardware projects, which he presents at all sorts of fun conferences.