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Applications That Should Use the TPM but Don't

In the past few years, the number of web-based applications has increased. Among them are web-based backup and storage. A large number of companies now offer such services, but as far as we are aware, none of the clients for these services let the user lock the key for the backup service to a TPM. If this were done, it would certainly be nice if the TPM key itself were backed up by duplicating it on multiple machines. This appears to be an opportunity for developers.

Another application that has become more useful recently is remote management. Many companies now offer ways of allowing one computer to “take over” management of another computer. For instance, you can use this functionality to monitor your network remotely or to give troubleshooting advice to remote members of your family. But again, the security models we are familiar with, use passwords to gate the remote access.

Although long, hard-to-remember passwords can provide some security, they aren't fun to use. This seems to be an ideal place for TPMs to be used—restricting remote access to machines that have been linked together with public/private keys. There do not appear to be any commercial applications that use the TPM for this—most commercial applications don't even support use of other cryptographic devices, including smart cards, for increased security. This is not due to lack of software development kits for writing such software, because several of these kits exist.

Building Applications for TPM 1.2

When you're building an application that will use a TPM, it is important to first decide if you are going to use the advanced facilities of the TPM beyond those that are exposed by PKCS or MS CAPI. If not, then it makes the most sense to write your application to these interfaces. This way, your application can be used on those machines with and without TPMs. But to use unique TPM features such as attestation, extended authorization, localities, an NVRAM locations, you have no choice but to use one of the custom TPM interfaces.

A number of API libraries are available for writing applications using custom interfaces. TSS 1.2 had a reputation for being hard to learn, so other suites were developed. TPM/J was developed at MIT to provide an object-oriented means of programming to the TPM. [1] Institute for Applied Information Processing and Communication (IAIK), of Graz University also delivered a version of Java integration with the TPM through trustedJava. [2] Sirrix provided a microTSS, an attempt to simplify the TSS specification. [3]

Additionally, command-line tools for the TPM were released by IBM together with a TPM emulator on SourceForge. As a result, it was possible to exercise TPM base commands in batch file.

Microsoft's TBS interface started out as a basic interface with the TPM, but its API is growing, and it may turn into a very nice means of programming TPMs. The biggest news in TBS programming came in Windows 8, where the TBS interface abstracted the difference between TPM 1.2 and TPM 2.0 so that all the APIs work with either chip. This is particularly useful for applications that use only those APIs, but it doesn't (yet) expose the new functions in the TPM 2.0 specification. TSS.net, which Microsoft also released, lets all commands be sent directly to the TPM, although it doesn't, as yet, have a high-level interface for the new TPM 2.0 commands.

  • [1] projects.csail.mit.edu/tc/tpmj/.
  • [2] trustedjava.sourceforge.net/.
  • [3] filewatcher.com/p/tpmmanager-0.8.tar.gz.3959086/tpmmanager-0.8/src/microtss/TSS.cpp.html.
 
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