User Mode Interrupts – A Must for Securing Embedded Systems

Credits: Embedded World Conference 2019 Proceedings,

Abstract — With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), devices are becoming smaller, smarter and increasingly connected. This explosion in connectivity creates a larger attack surface and new security threats. Recent cybersecurity attacks clearly demonstrated that the success of this new Internet era depends heavily on the security of those embedded devices that make up the IoT. In this paper, we argue in favor of a paradigm shift in the way computing systems are conceived and designed. We explain why the free and open RISC-V ISA promises to be a game-changer for embedded security, and we share our experience developing the industry-first RISC-V secure implementation of FreeRTOS based on MultiZone Security, the first Trusted Execution Environment for RISC-V. In the context of this research, we explain how to implement user-mode interrupts to secure modern embedded systems.

The world is undergoing an unprecedented technological transformation, evolving from isolated systems to ubiquitous Internet-enabled ‘things’ capable of generating and handling vast amounts of security-critical and privacy-sensitive data [1]. This novel paradigm, commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT), is a new reality that is enriching our everyday life but simultaneously creating several risks. Recent cybersecurity incidents, such as the Mirai Botnet, have clearly demonstrated that the success of this new Internet era is heavily dependent upon the trust and security built in these IoT devices.
The ongoing cat-and-mouse game of hacks and patches is largely due by the intrinsic lack of security of the traditional computing model, which is not safe nor secure. Mainstream operating systems (OSes) are designed for functionality and speed. These systems follow a monolithic architecture, with most of the services enjoying privileged execution rights. Typically, programs share the same access to code and data and functional blocks communicate via shared memory structures such as buffers, stacks and hypes – a single failure in one component can bring the entire system down [2]. Even more evolved systems that implements virtual memory protection schemas have shown several vulnerabilities, mainly due to the complexity of the software necessary to operate the underlying MMU [3].

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