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The Boot Integrity Usage Model

Boot integrity represents the first step toward achieving a trusted infrastructure. This model applies equally well to the compute, network, and storage domains. As illustrated in Figure 2-1, every network switch, router, or storage controller (in a SAN or NAS) runs a compute layer operating specialized OS to provide networking and storage functions, so this model enables a service provider to make claims about the boot integrity of the network, storage, and compute platforms, as well as the operating system and hypervisor instances running in them. As discussed earlier, boot integrity supported in the hardware makes the system robust and less vulnerable to tampering and targeted attacks. It enables an infrastructure service provider to make quantifiable claims about the boot-time integrity of the pre-launch and the launch components. This provides a means, therefore, to observe and measure the integrity of the infrastructure. In a cloud infrastructure, these security features refer to the virtualization technology in use, which comprises two layers:

• The boot integrity of the BIOS, firmware, and hypervisor. We identify this capability as trusted platform boot.

• The boot integrity of the virtual machines that host the workloads and applications. We want these applications to run on trusted virtual machines.

Understanding the Value of Platform Boot Integrity

To attain trusted computing, cloud users need systems hardened against emerging threats such as rootkits. Historically, many have viewed these threats as someone else's problem or as a purely hypothetical issue. This position is untenable in view of today's threats.

The stealthy, low-level threats are real and they occur in actual operating environments. The recent Mebromi BIOS rootkit low-level attack on a shipping platform was an eye-opener, as it took the industry by surprise. Unfortunately, as is often the case, it takes an actual exploit to change the mindset and drive change. And indeed, there are many more IT managers and security professionals taking action to improve the situation. As of 2012, a growing number of entities, including the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST), are developing recommendations for protecting a system's boot integrity. These recommendations contain measures for securing very basic, but highly privileged platform components.

Given the crucial role played by the hypervisor as essential software responsible for managing the underlying hardware and allocating resources such as processor, disk, memory, and I/O to the guest virtual machines and arbitrating the accesses and privileges among guests, it is imperative to have the highest levels of assurance so that it is uncompromised. This was the rationale for conducting the survey shown in Figure 2-2. With this growing awareness and concern has come a corresponding growth in vendors looking to define the solutions.

Figure 2-2. Survey results showing concerns over hypervisor integrity across regions

For the various devices/nodes across the infrastructure domains (compute, storage, and network), the integrity of the pre-launch and launch environment can be asserted anytime during the execution's lifecycle. This is done by verifying that the identity and values of the components have not changed unless there has been a reset or a reboot of the platform by the controlling software. This assertion of integrity is deferred to a trusted third party that fulfills the role of a trust authority, and the verification process is known as trust attestation. The trust authority service is an essential component of a trusted cloud solution architecture.

 
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