Introduction to Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs)

Learn the basics of working with Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) using Xilnix 7-Series FPGAs.

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Students who take this course, will receive a discount code that can be applied to the "Hardware Hacking and Instrumentation with FPGAs" course.

On modern IoT and embedded devices, low-level physical attacks are some of the most effective attacks against these platforms because they lack countermeasures. Increasingly, the tool of choice for performing such attacks are Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). In particular FPGAs make it possible to do things that are not possible with test and measurement equipment or devices such as microcontrollers. FPGAs offer full flexibility in implementing low level interfaces to hardware targets.

The course is ideally suited for both hardware engineers and software engineers who wish to better understand FPGAs and their uses and who have little or no experience working with FPGAs. This training utilizes low-cost Lattice FPGAs that support an Open-Source workflow and drastically reduce compilation times. As a result, these platforms can be easily used to build specialized USB devices to sniff, analyze and process other protocols in real time. Students will be familiarized with the concepts of hardware analysis and have a first-hand chance to build and instrument the analysis of hardware targets using FPGAs.

As such there are no specific prerequisites for this course beyond a basic programming background. Students will be provided sufficient background and templates for the python scripting language to successfully complete the assignments. All the aspects of hardware design (FPGA development, RTL design, Verilog HDL as well as simulation and functional verification) will be covered in the course. Each day will feature one CTF (capture the flag) style assignment that will take approximately the entire day for students to solve. Each assignment will cover one common flaw that can be found in real-world hardware implementations.

Students should bring a notebook capable of running VMware Fusion, VMware Workstation or the free VMware Player.

Topics Covered during this Course

  • FPGA Bring-up
  • Combinatorial and Sequential Logic
  • Lattice Open Source Tool Chain
  • JTAG, FPGA Implementations
  • HDL Development
  • Core Generation
  • Serial Protocols
  • Logic Simulation
  • Debugging Logic on the FPGA


  1. Theory/Basics

    • Recommended literature
    • Machine-To-Machine Communication
    • Logic 101
  2. Combinatorics

    • Sequential & combinatorial logic
    • Finite State machines (FSM)
    • Logical functions & arithmetic computation
    • Logic optimization
  3. Hardware Logic Implementation

    • Electronics 101
    • ASICs, TTL-Logic
    • FPGAs, CPLDs
    • Hard vs. Soft Macros
  4. FPGA/ASIC Development Workflow

    • Behavioral simulation
    • Synthesis
    • Place and Route
    • Timing simulation
  5. Gotchas

    • Design constraints
    • Optimization
    • Best practices
    • Safety and electronics

Day 1

In addition to the theory, the first day focuses on the basics of logic design, Verilog and FPGAs. Students will have the opportunity to apply much of the theory in practice by implementing small hands-on assignments to highlight aspects of working with FPGAs.

Assignment 1: Combinatorial logic on the FPGA
  • Students will compile a basic project for the FPGA.
  • Students will implement a loop back for the integrated FTDI interface.
  • Next, students will define additional I/O and physically attach a jumper to loop back the communications.
  • Finally, students will implement some combinatorial logic to turn on an LED when two buttons are pressed.
Assignment 2: Sequential logic on the FPGA
  • Compute the default clock frequency of the FPGA.
  • Calculate how many cycles of delay are required to toggle the LED at a certain frequency (i.e. every second)
  • Implement a counter to toggle the LED and run the design.
Assignment 3: FPGA Nicities Part 1: PLLs
  • Calculate a new delay value if the logic were to run at a higher clock rate.
  • Calculate the clock frequency factor necessary for the board to run at this frequency.
  • Instantiate a PLL to run the FPGA at a higher frequency than what is provided by the board.
  • Test the sequential logic from Assignment 2.
Assignment 4: UART TX
  • UART TX in Verilog
  • Implement a UART TX on the board that always sends ASCII A's (8'h41)
  • Improved UART TX FSM
  • Improved UART TX in Verilog
Assignment 4: UART RX
  • Implement UART RX in Verilog

Day 2

Day 2 will focus on Real World applications for FPGAs. First students will bring up a full UART tranciever on the FPGA to be able to communicated from the host PC to the FPGA and back. This will also highlight limitations that such interfaces can have, namely the need to buffer the data. Next students will implement a protocol decode capable of decoding the propreitary SDQ protocol used in Apple devices.

Assignment 5: Real-World Bring up: FPGA Hardware Echo
  • Insantiate a UART RX to decode data from the host PC
  • Toggle an LED whenever ASCII A is recieved (8'h41)
  • Insantiate a UART TX to send the decoded data back to the host PC
Assignment 6: FPGA Nicities Part 2: FIFOs
  • Try sending a data buffer over to the board using python3
  • Every second byte will get lost
  • Implement a FIFO to buffer the data.
Assignment 7: Real-World Example: Sniff the iPhone lightning interface
  • Build a protocol convertor capable of sniffing the iPhone lightning interface
  • Build an SDQ RX interface
  • Build an SDQ TX interface
  • Implement bi-directional UART <> FIFO <> SDQ communications
  • Handle the high-level communications in python3

After the introduction to FPGAs, the design workflow and the tooling, students will get the opportunity to solve practical CTF style assignments. Each assignment takes approximately 4-6 hours to complete.

Class Requirements

This course is suitable for people that are new to hardware security and electronics. All the theory and concepts related to electronics, HDL and debugging will be explained during course.

Hardware Requirements

  • You will need a Digilent Arty A7 FPGA development board as well as two Olimex P1343 development boards.

  • A working laptop capable of running virtual machines.
  • 4GB RAM required, at a minimum.
  • Approximately 60 GB free space for the Virtual Machine
Training by Dmitry Nedospasov

Dmitry is a hardware hacker, hardware design engineer, security researcher, speaker, and reverse-engineerer. Dmitry did his PhD in the field of IC security and PUFs.

Feedback by


21 May 2020

The streaming format was flawless. The chat was effective. Dmitry is adaptive to the needs of the students and spent an inordinate amount of time till the basic concepts of Verilog were drilled in with many, many exercises. This was never mentioned in the class description but something that will prove more useful than anything else.

Feedback by @red5heep

19 May 2020

I took the "Introduction to FPGA" training as a newbie in the field. Dmitry started from the basics, bringing me to a level to allow me to experiment by myself: the training touched all the most important concepts and gave a lot of practical tips and tricks: funny and challenging at the same time. The "2-days" format was perfect for me: it gave me a great overview and now it's up to me to deep dive into the technology.

Feedback by @HackerAllies

22 May 2020

I really enjoyed attending Advanced Security Training Intro to Hardware Hacking and Intro to FPGA courses online. They gave me the tools and techniques to bridge the gap from digital electronics theory in university with practical security testing today. In many ways it was equal to or more engaging than training I have attended in person at security conferences. Their presentation combined online video stream, chat, handouts, and multimedia use of cameras and instrumentation in their lab. I got a hands on experience with instruments, hardware, and example problems they provided along with a ready-made VM with working toolchain. The instructors expertise and experience were evident in the clarity of their presentation and answers to our questions. If you have the opportunity to take Advanced Security Training, I highly recommend it.

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