Remote Attestation Best Known Methods


There are many cases where it is crucial to verify the correctness of software and hardware configuration of a computer system. For instance, to improve the security of a corporate network, companies need to ensure that the systems that are allowed to connect to the corporate network are legitimate, and that the software that runs on the system is in a valid, known state. There are many different methods to ensure the above. This document describes a method that uses a Trusted Platform Module (TPM). TPM device can be used to validate a system integrity by implementing an attestation protocol. Trusted Computing Group (TCG) published a Trusted Attestation Protocol Information Model (TAP), which can be found at [1]. The TCG specification describes roles and message flows. The specific data format and binding to a protocol require additional “binding” specifications. The two main roles in this scenario are Verifier and Attester. A Verifier sends a challenge query to a system that selects the scope of attestation. The Attester collects attestation evidence (within the expected scope) that is to be verified (Attester). The Attester typically describes its boot state, current configuration and identity. Machine identities can establish supply chain provenance if the machine identity credentials are provisioned during manufacturing. One of the identities is known as the Endorsement Key (EK) certificate. The EK key may be used to provision attestation identities known as an Attestation Key certificate. Alternatively, the manufacturer may pre-provision an Attestation Key known as an Initial Attestation Key (IAK) which avoids having to provision it at onboarding or deployment. The Attestation Key is used to sign attestation evidence that is conveyed to the Verifier. After receiving the response, the Verifier can cryptographically check if the evidence satisfies the Verifier’s trust appraisal policy and if the device originated from an approved manufacturer. The manufacturer embedded EK and/or IAK and associated certificate path is what establishes device provenance to a vendor.

Key Provisioning

A platform with a TPM root-of-trust may be pre-provisioned with attestation and identities or they may be provisioned as part of device onboarding and deployment. Pre-provisioned keys and credentials are typically referred to as “Initial” while credentials provisioned at onboarding typically are referred to as “local”. However, a TPM pre-provisioned with only an EK may provision “Initial” keys at different stages in the supply chain including as part of device onboarding. Hence, TPM supports provisioning that happens over different stages. There are keys that are instantiated during manufacturing time by the TPM Vendor, other keys need to be instantiated during system assembly by the OEM, and other keys are instantiated by the system owner or user. TCG Provisioning Guidance [2] specification provides recommendations for key provisioning. Usually, TPM vendors provision the TPM device with a Primary Endorsement Key (PEK), and generate a certificate for that key (EK cert) in x.509 format at the time of manufacture. The EK Certificate contains the public part of the PEK, as well as other useful fields, such as TPM manufacturer name, part model, part version, key id, etc. This information can be used to uniquely identify the TPM and if the device OEM securely attaches a TPM to the device it can be used as a device identifier. The EK certificate may be stored in the TPM Non Volatile Memory (NVM), where it can be made available to client software or it could be made available online via the OEM’s website. The EK certificate is issued (cryptographically signed) by the TPM vendor’s CA and verifiers are assumed to trust the vendor’s root certificate. It is important to note that the private part of the EK key is expected to never be exposed outside of the TPM hardware. This ensures an attack TPM cannot easily masquerade as coming from a trusted vendor. To improve interoperability between vendors and adopters TCG also provides recommendations and guidelines for EK Credential values, which can be found in the TCG EK Credential Profile [3]. The Vendor may also instantiate an IDevID Key, that is used to uniquely identify the TPM device. At a later point the user may create more keys in the Endorsement hierarchy, that will be protected (wrapped) by the Primary EK. Tpm2_createek command can be used to generate a new EK. Note that Tpm2_createek will create the same key when invoked with the same template and the same Endorsement Primary Seed. Next, when the TPM is integrated into a system, the OEM generates a Primary Attestation Key (PAK) that is also stored in the TPM’s Non Volatile Memory and Attestation Key certificate, which references the Primary EK stored in the TPM. The OEM may also generate Initial Attestation Key (IAK) and IAK Certificate, which along with IDevID Key are used to platform identification, and signs it with the OEM’s preferred CA. Provisioning of other keys, such as Primary Storage Key (PSK), that are not used in attestation process are out of scope of this document. These keys can be generated on demand by the owner/user, don’t need to be signed by third party (Vendor, OEM), and no certificates are needed for them. Diagram 1 depictures the steps how a new TPM device is provisioned when it is installed in a system.

Diagram 1:  Attestation key provisioning

Attestation Procedure

Before a system can be attested the owner needs to obtain the public key of the TPM Vendor generated Endorsement Key and OEM generated Attestation Key along with the appropriate certificates. Certificates can be obtained by reading the TPM NonVolatile memory at a predefined location, or by obtaining them from Vendor/OEM websites. The Verifier normally stores these keys and certificates in a local database, usually integrated with the corporate PKI infrastructure. Another object typically stored in the Verifier’s local database is a policy that identifies an expected initial state of the device as defined by the software installed on the Attester system. The various vendor(s) of boot software contribute digests of the software to Verifiers to be used as a reference for comparing digests to attestation evidence. Boot software needs to be measured during platform setup stage, and include measurements (digests) for the bootloader, OS, drivers, and appropriate user space applications. The measurements are stored in a local database and are used later, during attestation, to make determination if a system is in a good state. The user may also create a policy that will make the Attestation Key bound, or sealed to the initial state of the system. For a data center deployments, where many nodes run on similar hardware configuration and run the same software, this can be measured for a single platform and then used as base measurement for different systems with similar hardware and software configuration. Another piece of functionality that needs to be enabled on the to be attested systems is measured boot. If it is enabled the system software will measure the images of every software module, on different levels during the boot process, record the measured values in the Platform Configuration Registers (PCRs) within the TPM, and created a system Event Log with a separate entry for every software image measured. First ‘Secure Boot’ option needs to be enabled in the BIOS configuration, and it also needs to be supported by the bootloader and the Operation System. Most of the recent UEFI based platforms, bootloaders and Operating Systems do support measured/secure boot. The attestation operation is initialized by the verifier. It can be started on a time based interval or in response to a network resource access request. The verifier requests the attester’s AK and EK certificates, validate them against the corporate Root CA, and if they are valid it creates a challenge including key id, PCR selection, and random nonce. The attestor loads the Endorsement Key (EK) and Attestation Key (AK), if they are not already loaded, and issues a TPM2_Quote command to the TPM, referencing the Attestation Key. TPM will only be able to use the key if the given PCRs will be in a valid state, defined at the time when the PCR policy is created. After that TPM creates and signs an instance of TPMS_ATTEST structure as defined by [5] and sends it back to the verifier. The Verifier uses the information included in the TPMS_ATTEST structure to perform appraisal by validating the public part of the AK and comparing the software measurement logs (Event Log) against the good-know-state of the system software configuration stored in the local database. Diagram 2 shows the attestation challenge flow.

Diagram 2:  Attestation challenge

The verify can compare every entry in the event log stored in the database with the corresponding entry in the TPMS_ATTEST structure to verify the state of bootloader, Operating System, user applications, and make arbitrary decisions based on the results of the verification process. The Diagram 3 shows the verification step performed by the verifier.

Diagram 3: Verification of the quote

Field upgrade and disaster recovery

When planning the implementation of the attestation in the corporate infrastructure it is also important to plan for platform firmware upgrades, operating system, or user space application updates. It is also important to plan recovery procedures in case of major failures, 0-days vulnerability disclosures, etc. Just as any other piece of corporate infrastructure TPM can become a target for an attack. Recently published TPM fail [6] paper showed that even some hardware TPMs can be vulnerable to timing attacks. In case of any of the mentioned situations it might be required to re-instantiate the affected TPM keys, and even the TPM modules itself, measure the system hardware and software configuration state and make appropriate adjustments in the local database, in which the measurements, keys, and key certificates are stored. TPM key upgrade and recovery should be part of an enterprise key management strategy. TPM device can generate and store keys that are non-migratable, and EK is an example of a non-migratable key. In this case it is recommended to follow the TPM vendor’s recommendations and procedures for managing the keys. When making a decision on what TPM vendor to choose it is important to check beforehand what level of support is provided, and what are the recommended recovery procedures [7].


  1. TCG, Trusted Attestation Protocol (TAP)
  2. TCG, TPM v2.0 Provisioning Guidance
  3. TCG, EK Credential Profile
  4. TCG, TPM2.0 Library Specification, part 1- Architecture
  5. TCG, TPM2.0 Library Specification, part 2- Structures
  6. Timing and Lattice Attacks on the TPM
  7. Infineon, TPM Key backup and recovery