Multi Zone Security for Arm Cortex-M Devices

Credits: Embedded World Conference 2020 Proceedings,

Abstract —Developing secure Internet of Things devices is becoming more and more difficult. Complex functional requirements are increasingly met with the addition of untrusted 3rd party components. The resulting monolithic firmware presents vastly larger code base, greater attack surface, and increased system vulnerability. In addition, cost and low-power requirements lead to resource-constrained microcontroller architectures. These lack basic hardware security mechanisms and the ability to separate multiple trusted applications from less critical components. A new zero-trust model is required to address the intrinsic security threat posed by the resulting multi-source monolithic firmware. In this paper, we propose a novel approach to embedded security based on hardware-enforced, software-defined separation of multiple, equally secure, functional domains. We start by analyzing why the traditional “two-worlds” model is no longer suitable for modern IoT applications. We then introduce the concept of a lightweight, multi zone, trusted execution environment capable of enforcing security and separation for a multitude of equally-secure functional domains. Finally, we explain the details of the actual implementation of this model in Arm Cortex-M7 processors.



The Internet of Things (IoT) is comprised of billions of interconnected devices that, by definition, are exposed to remote attack – potentially resulting in the most damaging type of cyber threats: distributed denial of service or DDOS. While early design concerns were mostly related to connectivity and interoperability, a multitude of recent high-profile cyberattacks has shown that the success of this new Internet era is heavily dependent on the trust and the security built into these devices [1, 2]. Read more of this post