News Column

Patent Issued for Switching between Unsecure System Software and Secure System Software

June 19, 2014



By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Computer Weekly News -- International Business Machines Corporation (Armonk, NY) has been issued patent number 8745414, according to news reporting originating out of Alexandria, Virginia, by VerticalNews editors.

The patent's inventors are Hajji, Hassan (Yamato, JP); Kawano, Seiichi (Sagamihara, JP); Moriyama, Takao (Yokohama, JP).

This patent was filed on March 31, 2012 and was published online on June 3, 2014.

From the background information supplied by the inventors, news correspondents obtained the following quote: "Historically, software that has been run on individual computer systems, such as the computing devices used by individual users, has been unsecure. Such unsecure system software includes versions of the Microsoft Windows.RTM. operating system, available from Microsoft Corp., of Redmond, Wash., for instance, and is susceptible to tampering and other deleterious effects by malicious and rogue software. For example, computer programs, as well as the operating system itself, can be installed on computers without having to authenticate the programs. As such, these programs are inherently insecure, since it cannot be determined that the program is what it claims to be.

"Some computing applications, however, require a more secure environment in which to run, where the system software is not susceptible to tampering and other deleterious effects. Such secure system software may include operating systems and other computer programs that are digitally signed. Therefore, prior to installation on a computing device, it can be verified that the software has not been tampered with, and thus is what it claims to be.

"A user may need to be able to switch between secure system software and unsecure system software. When not being run, the secure system software has to be protected from tampering by the unsecure system software, and by programs running in conjunction with the unsecure system software. Within the prior art, being able to switch from secure system software and unsecure system software is typically achieved by using a computing device with a processor that has special security features built-in. These security features enable the processor to ensure that unsecure system software will not tamper with secure system software.

"However, computing devices that use such special processors are generally more expensive than computing devices that do not have such special processors, such as computing devices that use currently available processors from Intel Corp., of Santa Clara, Calif., as well as from Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif. Existing computing devices that do not have special processors are also more plentiful than computing devices using special processors. Therefore, running secure system software on the same computing device on which unsecure system software can also be run is difficult to achieve."

Supplementing the background information on this patent, VerticalNews reporters also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent: "The present invention relates to switching between unsecure system software and secure system software on the same computer system. A computer system of one embodiment of the invention includes one or more processors, which may not have any built-in security features, memory, and firmware. The memory stores secure system software and unsecure system software. In response to receiving a user signal, the firmware switches from the unsecure system software running on the processors to the secure system software running on the processors (and back again). While the unsecure system software is running, the secure system software is protected from tampering by the unsecure system software.

"A method of one embodiment of the invention is performed in response to a user initiating a suspend-to-memory signal. The firmware blocks suspension to memory, and determines whether the unsecure system software or the secure system software is currently being run on the processors. Where the unsecure system software is currently being run, the firmware moves a secure memory boundary so that the secure system software is within an unsecure memory area of the memory. The firmware then passes control to the secure system software so that the processors run the secure system software. The secure system software cannot be tampered with by the unsecure system software, due to the unsecure system software no longer being run on the processors.

"By comparison, where the secure system software is currently being run, the firmware moves the secure memory boundary so that the secure system software is within a secure memory area of the memory. The firmware then passes control to the unsecure system software so that the processors run the unsecure system software. The secure system software cannot be tampered with by the unsecure system software, due to the secure system software being stored within the secure memory area of the memory. In one embodiment, the secure system software is authenticated exactly once by the firmware at some point in time.

"A method of another embodiment of the invention is also performed in response to the user initiating a suspend-to-memory signal. The firmware again blocks suspension to memory, and determines whether the unsecure system software or the secure system software is currently being run on the processors. Where the unsecure system software is currently being run, the firmware moves the secure system software to an unsecure memory area of the memory. The firmware passes control to the secure system software so that the processors run the secure system software. The secure system software cannot be tampered with by the unsecure system software, due to the unsecure system software no longer being run on the processors.

"By comparison, where the secure system software is currently being run, the firmware moves the secure system software to the secure memory area of the memory. The firmware passes control to the unsecure system software so that the processors run the unsecure system software. The secure system software cannot be tampered with by the unsecure system software, due to the secure system software being stored within the secure memory area of the memory. In one embodiment, the secure system software is authenticated exactly once by the firmware at some point in time.

"Embodiments of the invention provide for advantages over the prior art. At least some embodiments leverage existing secure memory areas of memory associated with firmware, such as the basic input/output system (BIOS), found in nearly all modern computer systems. No special security features are needed in the processors themselves, such that the computer systems do not require e system software is substantially instantaneous in response to the user initiating a signal, such as a suspend-to-memory signal like an Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) S3 signal via pressing one or more keys on the keyboard in combination. In some embodiments, this is also particularly because the secure system software is authenticated exactly once by the firmware, such that the secure system software does not have to be authenticated every time when it is desired to be run.

"Still other advantages, aspects, and embodiments of the invention will become apparent by reading the detailed description that follows, and by referring to the accompanying drawings."

For the URL and additional information on this patent, see: Hajji, Hassan; Kawano, Seiichi; Moriyama, Takao. Switching between Unsecure System Software and Secure System Software. U.S. Patent Number 8745414, filed March 31, 2012, and published online on June 3, 2014. Patent URL: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=8745414.PN.&OS=PN/8745414RS=PN/8745414

Keywords for this news article include: Software, International Business Machines Corporation.

Our reports deliver fact-based news of research and discoveries from around the world. Copyright 2014, NewsRx LLC


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Source: Computer Weekly News


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