dangers of TCPA/palladium (fwd)

Toby Corkindale toby at netcraft.com.au
Tue Aug 6 09:47:37 CST 2002

I hope you don't mind me forwarding this on. Its definately of 
significance to Linux.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 5 Aug 2002 06:00:31 +0100
From: Adam Back <adam at cypherspace.org>
To: Cypherpunks <cypherpunks at minder.net>
Cc: Cryptography <cryptography at wasabisystems.com>,
     Adam Back <adam at cypherspace.org>
Subject: dangers of TCPA/palladium

Like anonymous, I've been reading some of the palladium and TCPA docs.

I think some of the current disagreements and not very strongly
technology grounded responses to anonymous are due to the lack of any
concise and informative papers describing TCPA and palladium.

Not everyone has the energy to reverse engineer a detailed 300-odd
pages of TCPA spec [1] back into high-level design considerations; the
more manageably short business level TCPA FAQs [2], [3] are too
heavily PR spun and biased to extract much useful information from.

So so far I've read Ross Anderson's initial expose of the problem [4];
plus Ross's FAQ [5].  (And more, reading list continues below...).

The relationship between TCPA, and Palladium is:

- TCPA is the hardware and firmware (Compaq, Intel, IBM, HP, and
Microsoft, plus 135+ other companies)

- Palladium is a proposed OS feature-set based on the TCPA hardware

The main 4 features proposed in the TCPA/palladium scheme are:

1. secure bootstrap -- checksums of BIOS, firmware, privileged OS code
are used to ensure the machine knows whether it is running certified
software or not.  This is rooted in hardware, so you can't by pass it
by using virtualization, only by hardware hacking (*).

2. software attestation -- the hardware supports attesting to a third
party whether a call comes from a certified software component as
assured by the hardware described in feature 1.

3. hardware assisted compartmentalization -- CPU can run privileged
software, and RAM can contain information that you can not examine,
and can not modify.  (Optionally the software source can be published,
but that is not necessary, and if it's not you won't be able to
reverse-engineer it as it can be encrypted for the CPU).

4. sealing -- applications can store data that can only be read by
that application.  This works based on more hardware -- the software
state checksums developed in feature 1 are used by hardware to
generate encryption keys.  The hardware will refuse to generate the
key unless the same software state is running.

One good paper to understand the secure bootstrap is an academic paper
"A Secure and Reliable Bootstrap architecture" [6].

It's interesting to see that one of the author's of [6] has said that
TCPA as curently formed is a bad thing and is trying to influence TCPA
to make it more open, to exhibit stronger privacy properties read his
comments at [7].

There are a lot of potential negative implications of this technology,
it represents a major shift in the balance of power comparable in
magnitude to the clipper chip:

1. Potentially cedes control of the platform -- while the palladium
docs talk about being able to boot the hardware with TCPA turned off,
there exists possibility that with minor configuration change the
hardware / firmware ensemble that forms palladium/TCPA could be
configured to allow only certified OSes to boot, period.  It's
intereseting to note, if I read correctly, that the X-box (based on
celeron processor and TCPA / TCPA-like features) does employ this
feature.  See for example: [8].

The documents talk about there being no barrier to certifying TCPA
aware extensions to open-source OSes.  However I'm having trouble
figuring out how this would work.  Perhaps IBM with it's linux support
would build a TCPA extension for linux.  Think about it -- the
extension runs in privileged mode, and presumably won't be certified
unless it passes some audit enforcing TCPA policies.  (Such as keeping
the owner of the machine from reading sealed documents, or reading the
contents of DRM policy controlled documents without meeting the
requirements for the DRM policy.)

2. DSS over-again -- a big aspect of the DSS reverse-engineering was
to allow DVDs to be played in software on linux.  The TCPA platform
seems to have the primary goal of making a framework within which it
is possible to build extensions to implement hardware tamper resistant
DRM.  (The DRM implementation would run in a hardware assisted code
compartment as described in feature 3 above).  So now where does that
put open source platforms?  Will they be able to read such DRM
protected content?  It seems likely that in the longer term the DRM
platform will include video cards without access to video memory,
perhaps encryption of the video signal out to the monitor, and of
audio out to the speakers.  (There are other existing schemes to do
these things which dovetail into the likely TCPA DRM framework.)

With the secure boot strap described in feature 1, the video card and
so on are also part of the boot strap process, so the DRM system would
have ready support from the platform for robustly refusing to play
except on certain types of hardware.  Similarly the application
software which plays these DRM policy protected files and talks to the
DRM policy module in the hardware assisted code compartment will
itself be an application which uses the security boot-strapping
features.  So it won't be possible to write an application on for
example linux to play these files without an audit and license etc
from various content, DRM and OS cartels.  This will lead to exactly
the kind of thing Richard Stallman talked about in his prescient paper
on the coming platform and right to develop competing software control
wars [9].

3. Privacy support is broken -- the "privacy" features while clearly
attempts to defuse a re-run at the pentium serial number debacle, have
not really fixed it's problems.  You have to trust the "Trusted Third
Party" privacy CA not to track you and not to collude with other CAs
and software vendors.  There are known solutions to this particular
sub-problem, for example Stefan Brands digital credentials [10], which
can be used to build a cryptographically assured privacy preserving
PKI avoiding the linking problems arising from identity based and
attribute certificates.

4. Strong enforcement for DMCA DRM excesses -- the types of DRM system
which the platform enables stand a fair chance of providing high
levels of enforcement for things which though strictly legally
mandated (copyright licensing restrictions, limited number of plays of
CDs / DVDs other disadvantageous schemes; inflexible and usurious
software licensing), if enforced strictly would have deleterious
effects on society and freedom.  Copyright violation is widely
practiced to a greater or less extent by just about all individuals.
It is widely viewed as acceptable behavior.  These social realities
and personal freedoms are not taken into account or represented in the
lobbying schemes which lead to the media cartels obtaining legal
support for the erosion of users rights and expansionist power grabs
in DMCA, WIPO etc.

Some of these issues might be not so bad except for the track records,
and obvious monopolistic tendencies and economic pressures on the
entities who will have the root keys to the worlds computers.  There
will be no effect choice or competition due to existing near
monopolies, or cartelisation in the hardware, operating system, and
content distribution conglomerates.

5. Strong enforcement for the software renting model -- the types of
software licensing policy enforcement that can be built with the
platform will also start to strongly enable the software and object
rental ideas.  Again potentially these models have some merit except
that they will be sabotaged by API lock out, where the root key owners
will be able to charge monopoly rents for access to APIs.

6. Audits and certification become vastly more prevalent.  Having had
some involvement with software certification (FIPS 140-1 / CC) I can
attest that this can be expensive exercises.  It is unlikely that the
open source community will be able to get software certified due to
cost (the software is free, there is no business entity to claim
ownership of the certification rights, and so no way to recuperate the
costs).  While certification where competition is able to function is
a good thing, providing users with a transparency and needed
assurance, the danger with tying audits to TCPA is that it will be
another barrier to entry for small businesses, and for open source

7. Untrusted, unauditable software will be able to run without
scrutiny inside the hardware assisted code compartments.  Some of the
documentation talks about open sourcing some aspects.  While this may
come to pass, but that sounded like the TOR (Trusted Operating Root);
other extension modules also running in unauditable compartments will
not be so published.

8. Gives away root control of your machine -- providing potentially
universal remote control of users machines to any government agencies
with access to the TCPA certification master keys, or policies
allowing them to demand certifications on hostile code on demand.
Central authorities are likely to be the only, or the default
controllers of the firmware/software upgrade mechanism which comes as
part of the secure bootstrap feature.

9. Provides a dangerously tempting target for government power-grabs
-- governments will be very interested to be able to abuse the power
provided by the platform, to gain access to it's keys to be able to
insert remote backdoors, and/or to try to mandate government policy
enforcement modules once such a platform is built.  Think this is
unrealistic?  Recall clipper?  The TCPA is a generic extensible policy
enforcement architecture which can be configured to robustly enforce
policies against the interests of the machine owner.  Clipper,
key-escrow the whole multi-year fight, at some point in the near
future if some of the more egregious TCPA/Palladium framework features
and configuration possibilities becomes widely deployed could be
implemented after the fact, as a TCPA/Palladium policy extentsion
which runs in the hardware assisted code compartment and is
authenticated up to the hardware boot by the secure bootstrapping

So what I've read so far, I think people's gut reactions are right --
that it's an aggressive and abmitious power grab by the evil empire --
the 3 cartels / monopolies surrounding PC hardware, Operating systems
and Content Distribution.  The operating system near monoply will
doubtless find creative ways to use and expand the increased control
to control application interoperability (with the sealing function),
to control with hardware assistance the access to undocumented APIs
(no more reverse engineering, or using the APIs even if you do / could
reverse engineer).

So some of the already applications are immediately objectionable.
The scope for them to become more so with limited recourse or
technical counter-measures possible on the part of the user community
is huge.  Probably the worst aspect is the central control -- it
really effectively does give remote root control to your machine to
people you don't want to trust.  Also the control _will_ be abused for
monopolistic rent seeking and exclusionary policies to lock-out
competition.  Don't forget the fact that microsoft views linux as a
major enemy as revealed by documents uncovered some the anti-trust
discovery process.

In fact I'd say this is the biggest coming risk to personal freedom
since the days during the onset of the clipper chip / key escrow
looked like they stood some chance of becoming reality.


(*) It may be possible to hack the firmware, given access to source

[1] "Trusted Computing Platform Alliance (TCPA) Main Specification
Version 1.1b", TCPA


[2] "TCPA Specification/TPM Q&A", TCPA


[3] "TCPA Frequently Asked Questions Rev 5.0", TCPA


[4] "Security in Open versus Closed Systems (The Dance of Boltzmann,
Coase and Moore)", Ross Anderson,

(Sections 4 and 5 only, rest is unrelated)


[5] "TCPA / Palladium Frequently Asked Questions Version 1.0"


[6] "A Secure and Reliable Bootstrap Architecture"

  author = "Bill Arbaugh and Dave Farber and Jonathan Smith",
  title = "A Secure and Reliable Bootstrap Architecture",
  booktitle = "Proceedings of the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy",
  pages = 65-71,
  note = "Also available as \url{http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~waa/aegis.ps}"

[7] "The TCPA; What's wrong; What's right and what to do about",
William Arbaugh, 20 Jul 2002


[8] "Keeping Secrets in Hardware: the Micrsoft Xbox Case Study",
Andre "bunnie" Huang, 26 May 2002


[9] "The Right to Read", Richard Stallman, Feb 1997, Communications of
the ACM (Volume 40, Number 2).


[10] Stefan Brands

Book "Rethinking Public Key Infrastructures and Digital Certificates -
Building in Privacy", MIT Press, Aug 2000.


Number of other technical and semi-technical papers on that page.

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