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13 November 2019

Google meets RISC-V to define open source root of trust from edge to cloud

Silicon root of trust (RoT) technology is important for embedding security mechanisms at silicon level for a wide range of products from mobile devices to network cards to webscale servers. It is increasingly important as fears about 5G and cloud security rise, but it is also highly proprietary to each equipment vendor. To address that issues, an open source project called OpenTitan says it will produce a reference design and integration guidelines for silicon RoT.

Although Google is a leading figure in the group, and its own RoT design is called Titan, OpenTitan will not be an open source version of that technology. All participants will co-develop a design from scratch that will be agnostic to platform and vendor, said the group. Dominic Rizzo, OpenTitan lead at Google Cloud, told media: “What we are doing is opening everything up so you can establish security in the lowest levels [of hardware] available. without the blind trust in a proprietary design… We believe that transparency is fundamental to security.”

UK-based not-for-profit full-stack engineering company lowRISC CIC will manage OpenTitan. Other founding partners include Swiss university ETH Zürich, security management firm Giesecke & Devrient Mobile Security, semiconductor company Nuvoton, and data storage firm Western Digital.

ETH Zürich has contributed a RISC-V core to the project, which will form the basis of the OpenTrust microprocessor, lowRISC Ibex. Nuvoton plans to bring OpenTitan RoT embedded controller products to market. Along with Google, Western Digital has been a major contributor to OpenTitan’s design and verification efforts, and is also a leading light in RISC-V.

That open source microprocessor effort is increasingly expanding its activities into adjacent, essential technologies such as RoT, as well as chiplets, via the Linux Foundation’s CHIPS (Common Hardware for Interfaces, Processors and Systems) Alliance, which also features Western Digital and Google as members.

Other elements under development include cryptographic accelerators, a hardware random number generator, a sophisticated key hierarchy, memory hierarchies for volatile and non-volatile storage, defensive mechanisms, I/O peripherals and secure boot.

Speaking at the media conference, Gavin Ferris, co-founder and board member at lowRISC, said: “We are about 40-50% done with the reference design.”

Andy Hopper, chairman of lowRISC and a chip industry veteran, told EETimes: “The silicon root of trust is too important a foundational security technology to be proprietary; the OpenTitan project is another example of how open source development encourages innovation and serves greater interests by creating a truly trustworthy piece of silicon …  I’m encouraged to see companies working in a more collaborative and transparent fashion with researchers and the open source community to continue innovating in a post-Moore’s law world.”