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Hardware virtualization has enjoyed a rapid resurgence in recent years as a way to reduce the total cost of ownership of computer systems [5]. This resurgence is specially apparent in corporate data centers such as web hosting centers, where sharing each hardware platform among multiple software workloads leads to improved utilization and reduced operating expenses.

However, along with these cost benefits come added security concerns. Workloads that share the same platform must often be kept separate for a multitude of reasons. For example, government regulations may require an investment bank to maintain a strict separation between its market analysis and security underwriting departments, including their respective information processing facilities. Similarly, commercial interests may dictate that the web sites of competing businesses not have access to each other's data. In addition, concerns about malicious software subverting normal operations become specially acute in these shared hardware environments. For example, a remote client of a medical services site would like to determine that the server is not running corrupted software that will expose private information to a third party or return wrong medical information. The increasing use of virtualization thus gives rise to stringent security requirements in the areas of software integrity and workload isolation.

The combination of a hardware-based root of trust such as the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) [23], and a virtual machine-based system such as Xen [4], VMware [26], or PHYP [14], is exceedingly well suited to satisfying these security requirements. Virtual machine monitors, or hypervisors, are naturally good at isolating workloads from each other because they mediate all access to physical resources by virtual machines. A hardware root of trust is resistant to software attacks and provides a basis for reasoning about the integrity of all software running on a platform, from the hypervisor itself to all operating systems and applications running inside virtual machines.

In particular, the TPM enables remote attestation by digitally signing cryptographic hashes of software components. In this context, attestation means to affirm that some software or hardware is genuine or correct. TPM chips are widely deployed on laptop and desktop PCs, and are becoming increasingly available on server-class machines such as the IBM eServer x366 [12].

Virtualizing the TPM is necessary to make its capabilities available to all virtual machines running on a platform. Each virtual machine with need of TPM functionality should be made to feel that it has access to its own private TPM, even though there may be many more virtual machines than physical TPMs on the system (typically there is a single hardware TPM per platform). It is thus necessary to create multiple virtual TPM instances, each of which faithfully emulates the functions of a hardware TPM.

However, virtualizing the TPM presents difficult challenges because of the need to preserve its security properties. The difficulty lies not in providing the low-level TPM command set, but in properly supporting higher-level security concepts such as trust establishment. In particular, it is necessary to extend the chain of trust from the physical TPM to each virtual TPM via careful management of signing keys and certificates. As a result, some application and operating system software that relies on TPM functionality needs to be made aware of semantic differences between virtual and physical TPMs, so that certificate chains can be correctly built and evaluated, and trust chains correctly established and followed.

An additional challenge is the need to support migration of a virtual TPM instance between hardware platforms when its associated virtual machine migrates. The ability to suspend, migrate, and resume virtual machines is an important benefit of hardware virtualization. For the virtual TPM, migration requires protecting the secrecy and integrity of data stored in a virtual TPM instance during the transfer between platforms, and re-establishing the chain of trust on the new platform.

This paper presents the design and implementation of a virtual TPM (vTPM) facility. This work makes the following contributions:

This work can also serve as a template for how to virtualize other security-related devices such as secure co-processors. Virtualizing such devices presents similar challenges to those outlined above for TPMs.

The rest of this paper is organized as follows. Section 2 introduces background concepts useful for understanding the ensuing material. Section 3 presents the requirements on a virtual TPM facility. Sections 4, 5, and 6 respectively describe the design, the implementation, and a sample application of our vTPM facility. Section 7 discusses open issues, Section 8 covers related work, and Section 9 concludes the paper.

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Next: Background Up: vTPM: Virtualizing the Trusted Previous: vTPM: Virtualizing the Trusted
root 2006-05-12