Wikipedia defines side-channel attacks as:

any attack based on information gained from the physical implementation of a cryptosystem

Usually in side channel attacks the implementations leak information (e.g., timing attack: the implementation leaks the time it takes to complete a task, etc.)

Are tampering-attacks also considered as side-channel attacks?

On one hand, tampering-attacks are (usually) attacks on the implementation itself. On the other hand, the attack might be such that information only enters the device, and no information comes out of the device, so there is no "side-channel" that leaks the information. (example: If we heat some access-control device, until it grants us the access. Or if we perform SQL injection that causes the device to grant the access (but leaks no secret other than that))

  • $\begingroup$ Usually, tampering is physical and damages the device; it typically involves drilling holes or taking bits off (even if you can put them back later). Modifying the behavior, whether through logical means (e.g. SQL injection) or through physical means (e.g. operating outside the normal temperature range) is usually called perturbation. $\endgroup$ – Gilles Jun 20 '12 at 20:49

A tampering attack can be considered as an active side-channel attack, which is one that involves (physically) interacting with the device under attack. In contrast, passive attacks involve only measurement and observation.

Generally, however, I think tampering attacks are considered as a separate class as the countermeasures against them are quite different than for other side-channel attacks.


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