Q&A: Harnessing Trusted Computing Modules

Planning identity management or authentication rollouts? Don’t forget to factor in the Trusted Computing Modules now built into many PCs.

What are your plans for Trusted Computing?

Today more than 15 million PCs have a Trusted Computing Module (TCM), and by 2007, IDC predicts half of all PCs released will carry one. The module helps organizations implement hardware-enabled trusted computing, via a standard defined by the Trusted Computing Group (TCG), on both PCs and servers. Future specifications will address trusted storage, peripherals, and mobile phones.

To discuss the standards, we spoke with Steven Sprague, CEO of Wave Systems, which develops software for managing trusted computing devices.

Why offer software to manage TCMs in the enterprise?

We’re trying to provide the software applications that expose … base features that anyone can take advantage of to make their computing environment more secure. Our software runs on [all commercially available] Trusted Computing Module chips, and the different drive layers those devices support. We also provide a server layer—once I’m in an organization and there are a few hundred Trusted Computing devices deployed, where are the keys? I don’t want to have to walk down the hall every time to turn them on.

Don’t organizations want to forestall TCM management until most of their machines have the modules?

There’s this perception that I have to wait until I’ve upgraded all of my machines, and I don’t think that’s true at all. Or wait for the next Microsoft operating system. That’s not true either.

As an enterprise evaluates where they are with security, this is something they can use today. And what they don’t want to do is go deploy a new identity system or authentication system and not take this into account, because the majority of their machines in the next 24 months will have this technology, so they might as well take advantage of it.

Why is the TCM install base suddenly growing sharply?

The primary growth driver is because this is a really good way to address a fundamental problem that we’ve had for the last five years, which is: where do I keep my identities—me, as a user? We’re all at risk. You log onto a WiFi and your credentials are up, floating around.

Why do you say this is a five-year problem?

Because identity became important five years ago. … It got to a big-enough number that hacking—for a real install base, for value—has been an ongoing problem for the last few years.

Now, of course, the problem of identity theft is rampant. Gee, lost the laptop, happened to have all my customers’ names on it. Well, that wasn’t very good, and now I have to tell the New York Times that I lost it. So once I start to have the technology that will allow me to have automated compliance and good policy control of my machine, it makes it much easier to manage the network.

What’s Microsoft’s stance on the TCM?

Part of the Microsoft logo compliance for Vista requires a Trusted Computing Module, so basically all of the manufacturers, if they want to get a little sticker and be prepared for [Vista] business applications, they have to have it. So by this time next year, if you really want to be Vista-compliant [as a PC manufacturer], you need to have the TCM.

How does your software bridge the TCM and Microsoft operating system security?

The way the software works is, the Microsoft crypto APIs are exposed at the top. … You have to pick your cryptographic service provider (CSP), and we provide a CSP that knows how to talk to the Microsoft crypto model … and that’s the prescribed way the [TCG] standard is meant to work.

It’s an open platform, so anyone can take advantage of it, but the question is, which business do you want to be in—building the server or taking advantage of it? We’re trying to build it, so everyone can use it—things like backup and recovery of keys. If I’m a service provider, I can just recover a key; they don’t want to worry about … which authentications are allowed, do we support multiple users, etc.

What does a TCM make possible on clients?

In our Embassy Trust Suite, we provide a range of applications [that use TCM]. … [For example,] Document Manager is our file and folder encryption product, which is basically the ability to encrypt—but also share—a drive or public-space drive … in a completely secured manner, where all the files that are on the network are encrypted.

So you could have the accounting department have the latest shared reviews up in a shared space where only the four or five people who need access have it. Then IT, for example, can’t see who is or isn’t getting raises this year.

What does TCM make possible on servers?

[For example,] it will do a network authentication against my biometric, but it will also recognize that it’s my machine, and that might be different if I authenticated with my own machine, or walked up and used another machine. … [You can also enforce policies.] For example, maybe the accounting department can only post to a journal from an accounting department machine, and maybe that’s part of its Sarbanes-Oxley policy—I can only use these five or six machines to do that, and they’re all located in an office with a door that locks.

Who else is designing TCM management software today?

IBM’s personal computer division that was sold to Lenovo had a Trusted Computing Group team that was also sold to Lenovo, and they still appear to be building applications that take advantage of the Trusted Computing Group model. … They do not appear to be doing anything on the server side. … We’ve been an IBM partner and provided server-side tools; we haven’t extended that relationship to Lenovo yet.

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About the Author

Mathew Schwartz is a Contributing Editor for Enterprise Systems and is its Security Strategies column, as well as being a long-time contributor to the company's print publications. Mr. Schwartz is also a security and technology freelance writer.

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