Microsoft's Machiavellian manoeuvring

Summary:What is trusted computing, how will it affect you and what exactly is Microsoft up to with the best practice guidelines?

The Trusted Computing Group is an industry consortium that's trying to build more secure computers.

It has a lot of members, although the board of directors consists of Microsoft, Sony, AMD, Intel, IBM, Sun, HP and two smaller companies that are voted in on a rotating basis.

The basic idea is that you build a computer from the ground up securely, with a core hardware "root of trust" called a Trusted Platform Module (TPM). Applications can run securely on the computer, communicate with other applications and their owners securely, and be sure that no untrusted applications have access to their data or code.

This sounds great, but it's a double-edged sword. The same system that prevents worms and viruses from running on your computer might also stop you from using any legitimate software that your hardware or operating system vendor simply doesn't like. The same system that protects spyware from accessing your data files might also stop you from copying audio and video files. The same system that ensures that all the patches you download are legitimate might also prevent you from, well, doing pretty much anything.

(Ross Anderson has an excellent FAQ on the topic. I wrote about it back when Microsoft called the system Palladium.)

In May, the Trusted Computing Group published a best practices document: Design, Implementation, and Usage Principles for TPM-Based Platforms.  Written for users and implementers of TCG technology, the document tries to draw a line between good uses and bad uses of this technology.

The principles that TCG believes underlie the effective, useful and acceptable design, implementation and use of TCG technologies are the following:

  • Security: TCG-enabled components should achieve controlled access to designated critical secured data and should reliably measure and report the system's security properties. The reporting mechanism should be fully under the owner's control.
  • Privacy: TCG-enabled components should be designed and implemented with privacy in mind and adhere to the letter and spirit of all relevant guidelines, laws and regulations. This includes, but is not limited to, the OECD Guidelines, the Fair Information Practices and the European Union Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC).
  • Interoperability: Implementations and deployments of TCG specifications should facilitate interoperability. Furthermore, implementations and deployments of TCG specifications should not introduce any new interoperability obstacles that are not for the purpose of security.
  • Portability of data: Deployment should support established principles and practices of data ownership.
  • Controllability: Each owner should have effective choice and control over the use and operation of the TCG-enabled capabilities that belong to them; their participation must be opt-in. Subsequently, any user should be able to reliably disable the TCG functionality in a way that does not violate the owner's policy.
  • Ease-of-use: The nontechnical user should find the TCG-enabled capabilities comprehensible and usable.

It's basically a good document, although there are some valid criticisms. I like...

For more, click here...

Topics: Tech Industry

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