February 1999, Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) published
its Report on the Intel® Pentium® III
Processor Serial Number Feature:
criticised Intel for failing to ensure that the serial number
feature of its new Pentium® III chip would be fully
under the control of the user. We called on Intel and other major
processor suppliers to co-operate rather than compete in the
introduction of those specific features in their products that
are intended to provide improved safety and security for users of
the cyberspace. We also called on those companies to pursue such
work with effective and timely public consultation and in a
manner that allowed their global customers to have an influence
over the course of events.
is now working actively with PC manufacturers to ensure as far as
possible that the serial number feature of the Pentium®
III is under the users control.
new report reviews some possible features of future chips, and
calls for effective advance consultation about their
research has explored the possibility of building into
microprocessor chips the ability to carry out cryptographic
processes. (See The TrustNo 1 Crypto-processor Concept by
Markus Kuhn, http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/trustno1.pdf,
and papers there cited.) One possible application for
techniques of this kind would be to build chips that would refuse
to run any code not digitally signed with a cryptographic key
recognised by the chip. Another possible application would be to
build chips capable of running code which had been encrypted.
features could provide powerful protection from a number of
risks. They could provide valuable protection from many kinds of
viruses. They could also be used within a corporate environment
to ensure that users were not running software not approved by
the business. And if new software standards and certification
procedures are developed for software that respects users
rights to anonymity and to the control of their own private
information, such chip features could help users avoid running
such features raise two equally important questions: who is to
control them? And how can users be sure they are reliable?
the manufacturer alone determines whose signature can validate a
program to run on the chip, the owner of a PC is denied the right
to manage their own system and decide what programs will be able
to run. This is fundamentally unacceptable.
may wish to write their own programs. Owners may wish to run
programs provided by third parties who have not entered into
arrangements with the chip manufacturer for the recognition of
their signatures. Chip manufacturers may be pressed by their
governments to favour some software and disfavour other. The
owner would be at the mercy of unknown factors, operating without
transparency or accountability, and pursuing interests which may
be far from their own.
possible example out of many is provided by Netscapes
Internet browser software. As a result of US Government controls
on the export of cryptographic software, this browser is exported
in crippled form. If it is used to connect to an Internet web
site using cryptographic protection (typically the SSL protocol),
it is generally limited to the use of 40 bit keys, which are too
weak to provide any significant security. But a program is
available on the Internet called "Fortify" which can be
used to restore the cryptographic functions of the Netscape
browser so that it uses full 128 bit keys for its SSL
connections, giving strong cryptographic security.
if the users chip will run only the crippled version of the
browser, because the full strength version has not been signed
with a key recognised by the chip, then users are denied the
ability to obtain the security they want. No doubt the US
Government would be only too pleased if chip manufacturers could
be persuaded to support its export control regime in this way.
similar result would follow if the browser was supplied in
encrypted form: it would then be impossible for an external
program like Fortify to modify it so as to provide its full
also illustrates another drawback of the use of encrypted code:
the user has no way of knowing what functions are provided by the
code their computer is running. At present a user can in
principle get advice from experts who can examine code and say
what functions it performs. This openness to scrutiny serves to
ensure that users stay in control, and the use of encrypted code
would undermine that control.
technical and procedural methods required to implement the
features described in this note are complex and difficult. Chip
manufacturers are exposed to many conflicting pressures from
software houses and government agencies as well as privacy and
user interests. As Intel discovered in relation to the serial
number feature of its Pentium® III chip, implementing
security features can arouse suspicion and mistrust.
only must the user control the chip functions, but the totality
of the mechanisms used in generating keys and in writing and
validating signatures (design, implementation and operation) must
ensure that the owners control of the signature can be
relied on to ensure that all code approved by the owner, and only
code approved by the owner, can be run. If signing processes are
to be built into chips, or if chips are to run encrypted code, we
need owner control of them and also publicly accountable scrutiny
of the way the technical and procedural mechanisms work. Only
with such scrutiny can security features gain public trust. It is
particularly important that no national government can control or
gain access to mechanisms which can restrict the code which users
can run or which deprive users of the ability to know what
functions are contained in the code their computer is running.
therefore call on manufacturers of microprocessors:
to acknowledge the principle of control by the owner;
to permit publicly accountable scrutiny to enable the compliance
of their implementations to be verified.
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) report has been written
Mr. Nicholas Bohm, E-Commerce Policy Adviser for CR&CL(UK);
Dr Brian Gladman, Technology Policy Advisor for CR&CL(UK);
Mr Ian Brown, Managing Director of Cypherspace Ltd.