- Quick Look into Confidential Computing — Trusted Execution Environment (TEE)
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Significant boost for the Multi-Party Computation (MPC)
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What is Confidential Computing?
Data is often encrypted at rest in storage and transit across the network, but not while in use in memory. In addition, the ability to protect data and code while in use is limited in conventional computing infrastructure. Organizations that handle sensitive data such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII), financial data, or health information need to mitigate threats that target the confidentiality and integrity of either the application or the data in system memory.
Confidential computing protects data in use by performing the computation in a hardware-based Trusted Execution Environment. These secure and isolated environments prevent unauthorized access or modification of applications and data while in use, thereby increasing the security level of organizations that manage sensitive and regulated data.
Confidential computing is defined and managed by the Confidential Computing Consortium(CCC) under the umbrella of The Linux Foundation.
Extract from CCC website:
CCC is a project community at the Linux Foundation dedicated to defining and accelerating the adoption of confidential computing. It will embody open governance and open collaboration that has aided the success of similarly ambitious efforts. The effort includes commitments from numerous member organizations and contributions from several open source projects.
How can confidential computing help?
Confidential computing is the protection of data in use using hardware-based Trusted Execution Environments. Through the use of Confidential Computing, we can now protect against many of the known threats.
The entry of Trusted Execution Environments (TEE)
A Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is an environment that provides a level of assurance of data integrity, data confidentiality, and code integrity. A hardware-based TEE uses hardware-backed techniques to provide increased security guarantees for code execution and data protection within that environment.
In the context of confidential computing, unauthorized entities could include other applications on the host, the host operating system and hypervisor, system administrators, service providers, and the infrastructure owner or anyone else with physical access to the hardware. Data confidentiality means that those unauthorized entities cannot view data while it is in use within the TEE.
Data integrity — prevents unauthorized entities from altering data when any entity outside the TEE is processing data.
Code integrity — the code in the TEE cannot be replaced or modified by unauthorized entities.
Together, these attributes assure that the data is kept confidential and that the computations performed are correct, allowing one to trust the results. This assurance is often missing in approaches that do not use a hardware-based TEE.
The below table compares a typical TEE implementation with two other emerging classes of solution that protect data in use, Homomorphic Encryption (HE) and Trusted Platform Modules (TPM).
Is the hardware necessary for Confidential Computing?
Security is only as strong as the layers below it since protection in any compute stack layer gets circumvented by a breach at an underlying layer. This fundamental issue drives the need for security solutions at the lowest layers possible, down to the silicon components of the hardware. Hardware-based TEE provides security through the lower hardware layers with a minimum of dependencies to the operating system and other areas like device drivers, platform, peripheral, and cloud service providers.
To decrease the reliance on proprietary software for confidential computing environments, the Confidential Computing Consortium has excluded from its scope TEEs that have only software roots of trust and focused on hardware-based security guarantees for confidential computing environments.
High-level use cases of Confidential Computing?
There are multiple ways hardware-based TEEs are applied today to deliver the efficient defense-in-depth mechanisms and security boundaries sought by confidential computing. The significant uses of TEE:
- Portable hardware-TEE-based application SDKs consumed across various TEEs
Keys, Secrets, Credentials and Tokens Storage and Processing
Data integrity on Mobile and Personal Computing devices
Processing network traffic in Edge and IoT devices
Point of Sale devices/payment processing
Confidential Computing is the Future of the Cloud
Confidential computing provides strong security assurances in the cloud by empowering tenants to control the Trusted Computing Base for their workloads remotely. As well offers solid technical protection against any attacks from the rest, preventing potential attacks from other tenants or the cloud provider itself. In turn, this enables tenants to develop and deploy their confidential applications for their most sensitive data.
Imagine a future in which end users have complete and verifiable control over how cloud service uses their data. If they want their organization’s documents to be indexed, a confidential indexing service could guarantee that no one outside their organization ever sees that data. A confidential videoconferencing service could ensure end-to-end encryption without sacrificing the ability to record the session or provide transcripts, with the output sent to a confidential file-sharing service, never appearing unencrypted anywhere other than the organization’s devices or confidential VMs. A confidential email system could similarly protect privacy without compromising on functionality such as searching or authoring assistance. Ultimately, confidential computing will enable many innovative cloud services while allowing users to retain complete control over their data.
The Confidential Computing landscape is rapidly evolving to provide new tools to businesses and end-users that protect sensitive data and code against a class of threats occurring during data execution that were previously difficult, if not impossible, to protect.
As confidential computing evolves, more approaches may emerge, or evolutions of these approaches may occur. I’m personally super optimistic about the innovation that lies ahead in this field.
- Date of publication:
- Wed, 10/13/2021 - 11:59
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