PARTEMU: Enabling Dynamic Analysis of Real-World TrustZone Software Using Emulation


Lee Harrison and Hayawardh Vijayakumar, Samsung Knox, Samsung Research America; Rohan Padhye and Koushik Sen, EECS Department, University of California, Berkeley; Michael Grace, Samsung Knox, Samsung Research America


ARM's TrustZone technology is the basis for security of billions of devices worldwide, including Android smartphones and IoT devices. Because TrustZone has access to sensitive information such as cryptographic keys, access to TrustZone has been locked down on real-world devices: only code that is authenticated by a trusted party can run in TrustZone. A side-effect is that TrustZone software cannot be instrumented or monitored. Thus, recent advances in dynamic analysis techniques such as feedback-driven fuzz testing have not been applied to TrustZone software. To address the above problem, this work builds an emulator that runs four widely-used, real-world TrustZone operating systems (TZOSes) - Qualcomm's QSEE, Trustonic's Kinibi, Samsung's TEEGRIS, and Linaro's OP-TEE - and the trusted applications (TAs) that run on them. The traditional challenge for this approach is that the emulation effort required is often impractical. However, we find that TZOSes depend only on a limited subset of hardware and software components. By carefully choosing a subset of components to emulate, we find we are able to make the effort practical. We implement our emulation on PARTEMU, a modular framework we develop on QEMU and PANDA. We show the utility of PARTEMU by integrating feedback-driven fuzz-testing using AFL and use it to perform a large-scale study of 194 unique TAs from 12 different Android smartphone vendors and a leading IoT vendor, finding previously unknown vulnerabilities in 48 TAs, several of which are exploitable. We identify patterns of developer mistakes unique to TrustZone development that cause some of these vulnerabilities, highlighting the need for TrustZone-specific developer education. We also demonstrate using PARTEMU to test the QSEE TZOS itself, finding crashes in code paths that would not normally be exercised on a real device. Our work shows that dynamic analysis of real-world TrustZone software through emulation is both feasible and beneficial.

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@inproceedings {247658,
author = {Lee Harrison and Hayawardh Vijayakumar and Rohan Padhye and Koushik Sen and Michael Grace},
title = {{PARTEMU}: Enabling Dynamic Analysis of {Real-World} {TrustZone} Software Using Emulation},
booktitle = {29th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 20)},
year = {2020},
isbn = {978-1-939133-17-5},
pages = {789--806},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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