Confidential Computing—a brave new world

IEEE International Symposium on Secure and Private Execution Environment Design

Dominic P. Mulligan, Gustavo Petri, Nick Spinale, Gareth Stockwell and Hugo J. M. Vincent



The semiconductor industry is witnessing a nascent security paradigm shift in the rise of Confidential Computing. Driven by the need to protect computations delegated to co- tenanted machines operated by Cloud Computing services, main- stream instruction set architectures are gradually introducing novel features that can be used to establish protected isolates offering strong integrity and confidentiality guarantees to code and data contained within. Coupled with a Remote Attestation protocol, a third-party may request the launch of an isolate on an otherwise untrusted machine and know—with a high degree of assurance—that a payload of code and data was indeed loaded into a legitimate isolate with a particular configuration.

We argue that this ability to reliably establish a safe “beach- head” on an untrusted third-party’s machine has far-reaching consequences with applications beyond protecting workloads delegated to Cloud Computing services. In a future world where facilities for Confidential Computing are widely deployed and used, we imagine a utopia where inadvertent data leakage is a curiosity of a bygone age, with encrypted data moving from isolate to isolate and never resting in plaintext. Moreover, data is only released in explicitly delimited ways for processing, with systems and individuals exhibiting fine-grained control over data.

We report on recent activities within Arm in attempting to realize this vision, and hope that this paper acts as a “call to arms” to others to join with us in fully exploring the potential of these emerging technologies.