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Home arrow Computer Science arrow A Practical Guide to TPM 2.0
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Flexible Management (New in 2.0)

In the 1.0 family of TPM specifications, only two authentications existed in a TPM at a time: the owner authorization and the storage root key (SRK) authorization. Because the SRK authorization was usually the well-known secret (20 bytes of 0s), the owner authorization was used for many purposes:

• To reset the dictionary-attack counter

• To reset the TPM back to factory settings

• To prevent the SRK from having its password changed by someone who knew the well-known secret

• To provide privacy to the end user by preventing creation of AIKs except by the owner of the TPM

• To avoid NVRAM wearout in the TPM by preventing creation and deletion of NVRAM indexes except by those who knew the owner authorization

The problem with giving the same authorization to so many different roles is that it becomes very difficult to manage those roles independently. You might want to delegate some of those roles to different people. For example, privacy controls like those used to restrict creation of AIKs are very different from controls used to reset the dictionary-attack counter or manage SRK authorization.

In the TPM 1.2 family, you could delegate the owner-authorization role to different entities using the Delegate commands in the TPM, but those commands were fairly complicated and used up valuable NVRAM space. We know of no applications that actually used them.

An additional problem with TPM 1.2–enabled systems was that the TPM couldn't be guaranteed to be enabled and active (meaning the TPM couldn't be used). So, many OEMs were unwilling to create software that relied on the TPM to do cryptographic things such as setting up VPNs during the boot process or verifying BIOS software before installation. This inhibited use of the TPM. In TPM 2.0, the OEM can rely on the platform hierarchy always being enabled.

In the TPM 2.0 family, the roles represented by the various uses of the TPM 1.2 owner authorization are separated in the specification itself. This is done by giving them different authorizations and policies, and also by having different hierarchies in the TPM. One is the dictionary-attack logic, which has its own password for resetting the dictionary-attack counter. The others are covered by several hierarchies in TPM 2.0:

Standard storage hierarchy: Replicates the TPM 1.0 family SRK for the most part

Platform hierarchy: Used by the BIOS and System Management Mode (SMM), not by the end user

Endorsement hierarchy or privacy hierarchy: Prevents someone from using the TPM for attestation without the approval of the device's owner

Null hierarchy: Uses the TPM as a cryptographic coprocessor

Each hierarchy (except the null hierarchy) has its own authorization password and authorization policy. The dictionary-attack logic also has an associated policy. All Entities on the TPM with an authorization value also have an associated authorization policy.

Identifying Resources by Name (New in 2.0)

In the TPM 1.2 specification, resources were identified by handle instead of by a cryptographically bound name. As a result, if two resources had the same authorization, and the low-level software could be tricked into changing the handle identifying the resource, it was possible to fool a user into authorizing a different action than they thought they were authorizing. [1]

In TPM 2.0, resources are identified by their name, which is cryptographically bound to them, thus eliminating this attack. Additionally, you can use a TPM key to sign the name, thus providing evidence that the name is correct. Because the name includes the key's policy, this signature can be used as evidence to prove what means are possible for authorizing use of a key. The chapter on enhanced authorization describes this in detail. If the key can be duplicated, this signature can also be used to provide a “birth certificate” for the key, proving which TPM was used to create the key.


This chapter has described at a high level the use cases enabled by TPM 1.2 and 2.0. The capabilities of TPM 1.2 are the basis for trusted computing—an anchor for secure generation, use, and storage of keys and for storage and attestation of a PC's health status. TPM 2.0 enhanced this functionality by adding sophisticated management and authorization capabilities, as well as algorithm agility that prevents new cryptographic attacks from breaking the specification.

The next chapter examines applications and SDKs that take advantage of those capabilities to solving existing problems. These include solutions for securing data at rest, like BitLocker and TrueCrypt; for PC health attestation and device identification, like Wave Systems, strongSwan and JW Secure; and a number of SDKs you can use to create applications with that functionality.

  • [1] Sigrid Gürgens of Fraunhofer SIT found this attack.
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