3rd Gen Intel Xeon Scalable platform adds new security features

Intel today unveiled the suite of new security features for the upcoming 3rd generation Intel Xeon Scalable platform, code-named “Ice Lake.”

Intel is doubling down on its Security First Pledge, bringing its pioneering and proven Intel Software Guard Extension (Intel SGX) to the full spectrum of Ice Lake platforms, along with new features that include Intel Total Memory Encryption (Intel TME), Intel Platform Firmware Resilience (Intel PFR) and new cryptographic accelerators to strengthen the platform and improve the overall confidentiality and integrity of data.

The security features in Ice Lake enable Intel’s customers to develop solutions that help improve their security posture and reduce risks related to privacy and compliance, such as regulated data in financial services and healthcare.

Intel SGX is the most researched, updated and battle-tested TEE (Trusted Execution Environment) for data center confidential computing, with the smallest attack surface within the system. It enables application isolation in private memory regions, called enclaves, to help protect up to 1 terabyte of code and data while in use. It also helps customers unlock new multi-party shared compute scenarios that have been difficult to build in the past due to privacy, security and regulatory requirements.

Intel is also introducing new security capabilities to improve data protection and strengthen the platform, including:

Full memory encryption
• To better protect the entire memory of a platform, Ice Lake introduces a new feature called Intel Total Memory Encryption (Intel TME). Intel TME helps ensure that all memory accessed from the Intel CPU is encrypted, including customer credentials, encryption keys and other IP or personal information on the external memory bus. Intel developed this feature to provide greater protection for system memory against hardware attacks, such as removing and reading the dual in-line memory module (DIMM) after spraying it with liquid nitrogen or installing purpose-built attack hardware. Using the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) storage encryption standard, AES XTS, an encryption key is generated using a hardened random number generator in the processor without exposure to software. This allows existing software to run unmodified while better protecting memory.

Cryptographic acceleration
• One of Intel’s design goals is to remove or reduce the performance impact of increased security so customers don’t have to choose between better protection and acceptable performance. Ice Lake introduces several new instructions used throughout the industry, coupled with algorithmic and software innovations, to deliver breakthrough cryptographic performance. There are two fundamental innovations. The first is a technique to stitch together the operations of two algorithms that typically run in combination yet sequentially, allowing them to execute simultaneously. The second is a method to process multiple independent data buffers in parallel.

Growing resilience
• Sophisticated adversaries may attempt to compromise or disable the platform’s firmware to intercept data or take down the server. Ice Lake introduces Intel Platform Firmware Resilience (Intel PFR) to the Intel Xeon Scalable platform to help protect against platform firmware attacks, designed to detect and correct them before they can compromise or disable the machine. Intel PFR uses an Intel FPGA as a platform root of trust to validate critical-to-boot platform firmware components before any firmware code is executed. The firmware components protected can include BIOS Flash, BMC Flash, SPI Descriptor, Intel Management Engine and power supply firmware.

Privacy-preserving, trusted platforms in the upcoming 3rd generation Xeon Scalable processors will help drive even greater innovative services, usage models and solutions for organizations looking to activate the full value of their data.

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