Secure cryptoprocessor

From Academic Kids

A secure cryptoprocessor is a dedicated computer for carrying out cryptographic operations, embedded in a packaging with multiple physical security measures, which give it a degree of tamper resistance.

The purpose of a secure cryptoprocessor is to act as the keystone of a security sub-system, eliminating the need to protect the rest of the sub-system with physical security measures.

Smartcards are probably the most widely deployed form of secure cryptoprocessor, although more complex and versatile secure cryptoprocessors are widely deployed in systems such as ATMs. Some secure cryptoprocessors can even run general-purpose operating systems such as Linux inside their security boundary.

Fritz is a secure cryptoprocessor that is under development and brings trusted computing to ordinary PCs by enabling a secure environment. The Fritz chip is designed to make it much harder to illegally copy copyrighted software. Fritz will do this using four different "methods". All four methods make use of extensive cryptography.

Security measures used in secure cryptoprocessors:

  • tamper-detecting and tamper-evident containment
  • automatic zeroization of secrets in the event of tampering
  • internal battery backup
  • chain of trust boot-loader which authenticates the operating system before loading it
  • chain of trust operating system which authenticates application software before loading it
  • hardware-based capability registers, implementing a one-way privilege separation model

Secure cryptoprocessors, whilst useful, are not invulnerable.

The most famous secure cryptoprocessor is the IBM 4758. A team at the University of Cambridge reported the successful extraction of secret information from an IBM 4758, using a combination of guile, trickery, mathematics, and special-purpose codebreaking hardware.

Whilst the vulnerability they exploited was a flaw in the software loaded on the 4758, and not the architecture of the 4758 itself, their attack serves as a reminder that a security system is only as secure as its weakest link: the strong link of the 4758 hardware was rendered useless by flaws in the design and specification of the software loaded on it.

The software flaws reported by the Cambridge team have now been fixed, making the system more secure: a good example of the advantages of full disclosure.

Smartcards are significantly more vulnerable, as they are more open to physical attack.

See also

References

  • Ross Anderson, Mike Bond, Jolyon Clulow and Sergei Skorobogatov, Cryptographic Processors — A Survey, April 2005 (PDF) (http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mkb23/research/Survey.pdf).

External links

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