RISC-V security: First piece of the puzzle falls into place

 

By Thomas Claburn

10 Sep 2018 at 20:08

Credits: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/09/10/sifive_hex_five_riscv_secure_environment/

 

If you’ve been looking at SiFive‘s RISC-V-based chip technology and thinking, y’know what, it’s missing an Arm TrustZone-style element to run sensitive code, well, here’s some good news.

And if you’re just into processor design and checking out alternatives to Arm CPU cores, then this may be some interesting news.

SiFive helps organizations turn semiconductor designs based on the open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture (ISA) into chips. On Monday, it announced it has integrated Hex Five Security’s MultiZone Security trusted execution environment (TEE) into its Freedom SDK.

The technical confection gives companies creating RISC-V chips the tools to implement a security environment comparable to ARM’s TrustZone, though perhaps without past flaws. It should help users of the SiFive toolchain bring security-enforcing silicon to market faster.

Hex Five‘s technology, as its name suggests, allows for the creation of multiple isolated zones in which sensitive code – such as secure boot procedures and cryptographic routines – can run without interference from other programs or operating systems executing at the same time. It works with a Configurator tool that combines the compiled code with a Hex Five nanokernel to run within the secured environment.

TEEs partition the processor in distinct zones and attempt to maintain separation between them to the extent that’s possible. Related work is being done by MIT and UC Berkeley boffins to develop an open source secure enclave called Keystone, one component in a TEE.

Authentication

In a phone interview with The Register, Don Barnetson, cofounder of Hex Five, explained that the TEE sits at the bare metal level and is used to secure the root of trust and authentication below the operating system. A secure enclave like Keystone, he said, would be used to secure a Linux app from other pieces of Linux.

He sees Keystone as complementary to MultiZone.

“RISC-V is an open source ISA,” he said. “The ISA is the contract between the software and hardware. MultiZone allows you to secure that ISA for the first time. Security is often so complicated that people just don’t bother. Our goal is to make it easier.”

MultiZone is being made available through the SiFive Software Ecosystem program, by which participating vendors provide hardware-making customers with IP at little or not cost, to allow chip products to be brought to market before IP bills come due.

“History shows that the complexity associated with properly implementing security technologies often results in them not being used at all,” said Cesare Garlati, co-founder of Hex-Five, in a statement. “Our mission is to enable mainstream adoption of security best practices by simplifying their deployment.”

The RISC-V ISA, backed by the RISC-V Foundation and companies such Google, Nvidia, Western Digital, and Samsung, among others, offers an open, royalty-free set of instruction that companies can use in custom processors.

Chip designer Arm, which charges for its silicon blueprints, has had its feathers ruffled by RISC-V because it represents a potential competitor, once the project matures. The Softbank-owned company launched an anti-RISC-V website in late June, and then removed it after about two weeks after criticism from its own staff and the broader tech industry.

Hypervisors in Embedded Systems: Applications and Architectures

Credits: Embedded World Conference 2018, ISBN 978-3-645-50173-6, http://www.embedded-world.eu

Abstract — As microprocessor architectures have evolved with direct hardware support for virtualization, hypervisor software has become not just practical in embedded systems, but present in many commercials applications. This paper discusses embedded systems use cases for hypervisors, including their use in workload consolidation and security applications.

Introduction

Hypervisors are a type of operating system software that allows multiple traditional operating systems to run on the same microprocessor [1]. They were originally introduced in traditional IT data centers to solve workload balancing and system utilization challenges. Initial hypervisors required changes to the guest OS to compensate for a lack of hardware support for the isolation required between guest operating systems. As microprocessor architectures have evolved with direct hardware support for virtualization, hypervisors have become not just practical in embedded systems, but are present in deployed applications [2]. Hypervisors are here to stay in embedded systems. This paper discusses embedded systems use cases for hypervisors, including their use in workload consolidation and security applications.

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Hardware Enforced Virtualization Of Llinux Home Gateways

Credits: Embedded World Conference 2018, ISBN 978-3-645-50173-6, http://www.embedded-world.eu

Abstract — Trust and security are central to embedded computing as network devices – such as home gateways – have become the first line of defense for the IoT devices connected to the smart home. In this paper, we present a virtualization-based approach to securing home gateway while preserving functionality and performance.

Introduction

Trust and security have never been more important to the embedded computing world, especially when it comes to network devices, such as home gateways, that are the first line of defense for the IoT devices connected to the smart home [4]. In 2017, a plethora of stories have confirmed that these devices are fundamentally broken from a security perspective.

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When IoT Attacks – The End of the World as We Know It?

Excerpts of my interview with Phil Muncaster @philmuncaster

InfoSecurity Magazine Q4/2017, 4 October 2017

https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/digital-editions/digital-edition-q4-2017/

Focus on the Firmware

A cursory look at OWASP’s IoT Security Guidance will highlight just how many elements in the IoT ecosystem could be exploited. Among others, these include the web interface, network, transport encryption layer, mobile app and device firmware. The latter is a key area of focus for the prpl Foundation, a non-profit which is trying to coral the industry into taking a new hardware-based approach to IoT security. Cesare Garlati, chief security strategist, claims that hackers could exploit IoT chip firmware to re-flash the image, allowing them to reboot and execute arbitrary code. “The issue with this kind of attack is that it gives the hackers complete control of the device and it is persistent; it can’t be undone via a system reboot, for example”, he tells Infosecurity. The answer is to ensure IoT systems will only boot up if the first piece of software to execute is cryptographically signed by a trusted entity. “It needs to match on the other side with a public key or certificate which is hard-coded into the device, anchoring the ‘Root of Trust’ into the hardware to make it tamper proof ”, says Garlati.

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Embedded World 2017 – IoT coming of age.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Embedded World 2017 in Germany as I was invited to give a couple of presentations on the pioneering work we have been doing at the prpl Foundation with regards to the prplHypervisor™ and prplPUF™ APIs for securing IoT. As it turns out, IoT was the top line at the conference that drew in more than 30,000 trade visitors – and the event solidified the notion that embedded computing is now synonymous with IoT.

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prpl Foundation Unveils the First Open Source Hypervisor for the Internet of Things

Debut of the prplHypervisor™ to Occur at the IoT Evolution Expo in Las Vegas

prplHypervisorTMSANTA CLARA, CA–(Marketwired – Jul 11, 2016) – The prpl Foundation today announced the upcoming debut of the prplHypervisor at the IoT Evolution Expo in Las Vegas. The prplHypervisor is an industry-first light-weight open source hypervisor specifically designed to provide security through separation for the billions of embedded connected devices that power the Internet of Things.

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Securing The Internet of (broken) Things: A Matter of Life and Death

Securing the Internet of broken thingsIf you’re like me you’ll probably be getting desensitized by now to the ever-lengthening list of data breach headlines which have saturated the news for the past 24 months or more. Targeted attacks, Advanced Persistent Threats and the like usually end up in the capture of sensitive IP, customer information or trade secrets. The result? Economic damage, board level sackings and a heap of bad publicity for the breached organization. But that’s usually where it ends.

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