Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Stackify Blog, SmartBear Blog, Pat Romanski, Yeshim Deniz, Plutora Blog

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Trusting Computing on Linux

Building a trusted platform

In an era where everybody is connected to a potentially harmful Internet with an increasing number of complex and distributed applications, controlling what the computers do has become significantly harder. At the core, simple actions (executing software, e-commerce, etc.) rely on trust relationships; what if your computer (or the merchant's) has been compromised and alters your perception of reality? Indeed, at the beginning, Neo did not know there was a Matrix because he trusted everything he saw...

Closer to our world, and without being paranoid, one of the first actions intruders or rootkits take is to replace common commands with fake ones. Is it then possible to guarantee that we'll really execute the code we intended to? How far can you trust the computer of a given merchant not to reveal your credit card number? This is precisely what trusted computing is about: providing the means to know how much a given machine may be trusted.

Actually, the use of chips to enforce security within the lowest layers isn't new; it's existed for many years. However, their high price, difficult integration with commercial software, and high impact on systems' performances has restricted their use to the mainstream industry.

Several major industrials decided to join their efforts and design a compromise that would meet market needs. The idea was to build a trusted platform, including a new security chip, that would be easier to use and with more computational power, but perhaps a little less secure. They first gave birth to the TCPA (Trusted Computing Platform Alliance) in 1999, and then to its successor, TCG (Trusted Computing Group), in 2003.

Trusted Computing Group

The primary goal of the TCG is to provide the industry with vendor-neutral standard specifications for various platforms (PC, PDA, mobile phone, etc.). To do so, they describe a subsystem to integrate onto each platform and that provides protection to a user's computing environment, and information and keys to operating systems or applications. More precisely, TCG's proposed subsystem consists of a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and the TPM Software Stack (TSS).

The TPM is a hardware chip. It provides low-level trusted computing functionalities such as protected storage (making sure encryption keys cannot be retrieved even if the platform is compromised), integrity metrics (detecting compromise), and platform attestation (prove to others that the platform has a given property).

As for the TSS, it's organized as shown in Figure 1:

  • A TPM device driver, typically provided by the TPM manufacturer
  • An abstraction layer to TPM drivers, the TDDL, which makes it possible to develop upper components in the stack independent of the TPM chip
  • A core services layer (TCS) that groups all common services to the software stack, such as event management, key and credentials management, etc.
  • Various TSS Service Providers (TSP) that, for example, offer access to specific APIs such as PKCS#11
To illustrate the possible benefits of using trusted compu-ting, let's describe a simple case where a system administrator needs to secure an employee's laptop access to the corporate network. The employee accesses his or her company's network using a secret key and specific network access software (e.g., a VPN client). The problem is that the employee's laptop is obviously untrusted; it's carried everywhere and unfortunately is the ideal target for viruses or any other malware. If a laptop's corporate network access software and/or the secret key are compromised, this may seriously impact corporate security.

To avoid such a scenario, a possible solution relies on trusted computing. The administrator uses the TPM to seal the secret key with the BIOS, OS, and the network access software. This cryptographically binds the keys to a given software stack, so that only the TPM may unseal the key if and only if the software stack (BIOS, OS, network-access software) has not been compromised. This virtually establishes trust on an untrusted platform.

Linux Support for TCG

In practice, TPMs are already well established on the market, although perhaps not that widely yet. Several chip manufacturers propose TPM chips (e.g., Infineon's SLD 9630 TT or Atmel's AT97SC3201). Intel has developed TPM-integrated boards (D865GRH, D915GEV, and D915GUX desktop boards). TPMs are even sold on a specific desktop or laptop series (IBM ThinkCentre, HP Compaq DC7100, Toshiba Tecra M2, Fujitsu Lifebook S, etc.). The real difficulty in getting your hands on TCG arises later, within the TPM Software Stack. Indeed, mainstream Linux kernels do not natively recognize TPM chips, and solutions to use them are nearly nonexistent at the moment.

With Linux, we are presently only aware of NTRU's TSS and a few research projects listed in Table 1. Most of those are highly experimental, with only limited support of TPM chips and a selected subset of TCG functions. Clearly, this is currently only a developer's or an expert's world; there is no way an end user can benefit from TCG's functionalities without getting into the source code.

TCG and Linux

Actually, trusted computing's first exposure to the public has been quite controversial. Basically, people worried that this technology would scorn privacy or block software interoperability. Others even exposed startling side effects. The reality is probably somewhat more balanced, and we dare to compare trusted computing to a Swiss army knife: it can be extremely useful for getting out of (dangerous?) situations, but obviously it may be lethal.

It's beyond the scope of this article to tackle privacy and TCG issues in more detail, though we invite interested readers to refer to the resources section for further readings.

Whether we want it or not, trusted computing seems to be a part of the future for many commercial systems. Support for TCG is already part of the requirements for some industrial Linux systems. Market perspective looks extremely promising; indeed, there are still several research and development opportunities:

  • At the hardware level, by introducing new trusted hardware on the market (see for instance, Intel's trusted keyboard controller).
  • At the operating system level, with a new "trusted" OS making use of trusted hardware. This would probably consist of a kernel module but with a broader link to the OS.
  • At the application level, with numerous use cases for end-user "trusted" applications, but barely any implementation on Linux yet.
  • In the area of embedded systems - for example, mobile phones, PDAs, or other devices.

Conclusion

Currently, the best way to qualify TCG's penetration in the market is moderate: the TPM chips are already on the market, but their software stack is extremely limited and experimental. Yet, whatever your rationale is - for or against TCG technology - with the widespread propagation of viruses and other malware, and the ever-increasing security needs of the industry, trusted computing seems an extremely promising technology and TPM chips are very likely to be deployed more frequently on systems around us. It would then be extremely positive for the Linux community - and more generally the open source community - to get involved. Indeed, how much and how well TPMs are supported and integrated could become a selection criteria among operating systems in the future.

Resources

  • Yee, B. "Using Secure Coprocessors", PhD Thesis, CMUCS94149, May 1994: http://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/yee94using.htm
  • Arnold, T. W., and van Doorn, L. P. "The IBM PCIXCC: A new cryptographic coprocessor for the IBM eServer." IBM Research & Development Journal. Vol. 48, No. 3. May/July 2004.
  • Trusted Computing Group: www.trustedcomputinggroup.org
  • NTRU Core TCG Software Stack (CTSS): www.ntru.com/products/tcg_ss.htm
  • Safford, D. "TCPA Resources": www.research.ibm.com/gsal/tcpa/
  • Sailer, R.; Jaeger, T.; van Doorn, L.; Zheng, X. "TPM based Linux Runtime Attestation": www.research.ibm.com/secure_systems_department/projects/tcglinux/
  • Wild, O., and Marchesini, J. "Enforcer": http://enforcer.sourceforge.net/
  • Sevinc, P.E. "A Software-based TPM Emulator for Linux": www.infsec.ethz.ch/people/psevinc
  • Selhorst, M., and Stueble, C. "Linux Kernel Module for the Infineon Trusted Platform Module SLD 9630 TT": www.prosec.rub.de/tpm/
  • Anderson, R. "Trusted Computing - Frequently Asked Questions", version 1.1. August 2003: www.againsttcpa.com/tcpafaqen.html
  • Schechter, S.E.; Greenstadt, R.A.; and Smith, M.D. "Trusted Computing, Peer to Peer Distribution, and the Economics of Pirated Entertainment." Second Workshop on Economics and Information Society, May 29, 2003: www.eecs.harvard.edu/~stuart/papers/eis03.pdf
  • Carrier Grade Linux Hardware Requirements definition version 3: www.osdl.org/docs/cgl_hw_req_def___v30_draft.pdf
  • Bajikar, S. "Trusted Mobile Keyboard Controller Architecture." Intel Developers Forum. Fall 2003: www.intel.com/idf/us/fall2003/presentations/F03USMOBS147_OS.pdf
  • Wave Systems, Embassy Trust Suite: www.wave.com/products/ets_pro.html
  • Linux Devices. January 22, 2003: www.linuxdevices.com/news/NS9222005703.html
  • Walko, J. "ARM links with Trusted Logic for secure mobile, set tops." July 14, 2004: www.embedded.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=23900682&_loopback=1
  • More Stories By Makan Pourzandi

    Makan Pourzandi received his doctoral degree on parallel computing in 1995 from the University of Lyon, France. He works for Ericsson Research
    Canada in the Open Systems Research Department. His research domains are security, cluster computing, and component-based methods for
    distributed programming. He has more than 7 publications in International conferences with reference committees. Makan has delivered several talks
    at universities, international conferences, and Open Source forums. He is involved in several Open Source projects: Distributed Security
    Infrastructure (disec.sourceforge.net), and a contributer to the
    security requirements of the Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) Carrier Grade Linux (CGL).

    More Stories By Axelle Apvrille

    Axelle Apvrille currently works for Ericsson Research Canada in the Open Systems Research Department. Her
    research interests are cryptography, security protocols and distributed
    security. She received her computer science engineering degree in 1996
    at ENSEIRB, Bordeaux, France.

    Comments (0)

    Share your thoughts on this story.

    Add your comment
    You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

    In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


    @ThingsExpo Stories
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Interoute, owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Interoute is the owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform which encompasses 12 data centers, 14 virtual data centers and 31 colocation centers, with connections to 195 add...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named “Platinum Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business – from apparel to energy – is being rewritten by software. From ...
    What sort of WebRTC based applications can we expect to see over the next year and beyond? One way to predict development trends is to see what sorts of applications startups are building. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Arin Sime, founder of WebRTC.ventures, will discuss the current and likely future trends in WebRTC application development based on real requests for custom applications from real customers, as well as other public sources of information,
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Infranics will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Since 2000, Infranics has developed SysMaster Suite, which is required for the stable and efficient management of ICT infrastructure. The ICT management solution developed and provided by Infranics continues to add intelligence to the ICT infrastructure through the IMC (Infra Management Cycle) based on mathemat...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloudistics delivers a complete public cloud experience with composable on-premises infrastructures to medium and large enterprises. Its software-defined technology natively converges network, storage, compute, virtualization, and management into a ...
    Now that the world has connected “things,” we need to build these devices as truly intelligent in order to create instantaneous and precise results. This means you have to do as much of the processing at the point of entry as you can: at the edge. The killer use cases for IoT are becoming manifest through AI engines on edge devices. An autonomous car has this dual edge/cloud analytics model, producing precise, real-time results. In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Crupi, Vice President and Eng...
    In the enterprise today, connected IoT devices are everywhere – both inside and outside corporate environments. The need to identify, manage, control and secure a quickly growing web of connections and outside devices is making the already challenging task of security even more important, and onerous. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Rich Boyer, CISO and Chief Architect for Security at NTT i3, will discuss new ways of thinking and the approaches needed to address the emerging challenges of securit...
    The taxi industry never saw Uber coming. Startups are a threat to incumbents like never before, and a major enabler for startups is that they are instantly “cloud ready.” If innovation moves at the pace of IT, then your company is in trouble. Why? Because your data center will not keep up with frenetic pace AWS, Microsoft and Google are rolling out new capabilities In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Don Browning, VP of Cloud Architecture at Turner, will posit that disruption is inevitable for c...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Loom Systems will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Founded in 2015, Loom Systems delivers an advanced AI solution to predict and prevent problems in the digital business. Loom stands alone in the industry as an AI analysis platform requiring no prior math knowledge from operators, leveraging the existing staff to succeed in the digital era. With offices in S...
    There are 66 million network cameras capturing terabytes of data. How did factories in Japan improve physical security at the facilities and improve employee productivity? Edge Computing reduces possible kilobytes of data collected per second to only a few kilobytes of data transmitted to the public cloud every day. Data is aggregated and analyzed close to sensors so only intelligent results need to be transmitted to the cloud. Non-essential data is recycled to optimize storage.
    As businesses adopt functionalities in cloud computing, it’s imperative that IT operations consistently ensure cloud systems work correctly – all of the time, and to their best capabilities. In his session at @BigDataExpo, Bernd Harzog, CEO and founder of OpsDataStore, will present an industry answer to the common question, “Are you running IT operations as efficiently and as cost effectively as you need to?” He will expound on the industry issues he frequently came up against as an analyst, and...
    In his General Session at 16th Cloud Expo, David Shacochis, host of The Hybrid IT Files podcast and Vice President at CenturyLink, investigated three key trends of the “gigabit economy" though the story of a Fortune 500 communications company in transformation. Narrating how multi-modal hybrid IT, service automation, and agile delivery all intersect, he will cover the role of storytelling and empathy in achieving strategic alignment between the enterprise and its information technology.
    "I think that everyone recognizes that for IoT to really realize its full potential and value that it is about creating ecosystems and marketplaces and that no single vendor is able to support what is required," explained Esmeralda Swartz, VP, Marketing Enterprise and Cloud at Ericsson, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
    Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" ...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that HTBase will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. HTBase (Gartner 2016 Cool Vendor) delivers a Composable IT infrastructure solution architected for agility and increased efficiency. It turns compute, storage, and fabric into fluid pools of resources that are easily composed and re-composed to meet each application’s needs. With HTBase, companies can quickly prov...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
    Keeping pace with advancements in software delivery processes and tooling is taxing even for the most proficient organizations. Point tools, platforms, open source and the increasing adoption of private and public cloud services requires strong engineering rigor - all in the face of developer demands to use the tools of choice. As Agile has settled in as a mainstream practice, now DevOps has emerged as the next wave to improve software delivery speed and output. To make DevOps work, organization...
    China Unicom exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which took place at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, in November 2016. China United Network Communications Group Co. Ltd ("China Unicom") was officially established in 2009 on the basis of the merger of former China Netcom and former China Unicom. China Unicom mainly operates a full range of telecommunications services including mobile broadband (GSM, WCDMA, LTE FDD, TD-LTE), fixed-line broadband, ICT, data communica...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev, a client-oriented software development company, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MobiDev is a software company that develops and delivers turn-key mobile apps, websites, web services, and complex softw...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud computing technologies. Ge...