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Trusted Computing Group Releases Spec For Cell Phone Security

The spec is intended to help make it easier to protect mobile data and applications, but several hurdles lay ahead for broad adoption.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Trusted Computing Group (TCG) officially rolls out its standard for cellphone security Wednesday (Sept. 13), a specification three years in the making. The spec is intended to help make it easier to protect mobile data and applications, although several hurdles lay ahead for broadly adopting it.

Nearly 50 companies helped define the Mobile Trusted Module (MTM) spec to be posted and available free of charge starting September 13 at the TCG Web site. However, two of the largest cellphone chip makers—Texas Instruments and Qualcomm—did not participate in developing the spec. Indeed, the only carriers involved in the work were from Europe: Vodaphone and France Telecom.

The PC-oriented TCG kicked off the cellphone effort in 2003 and spent much of the first year recruiting stakeholders from the mobile world. The group coalesced in 2004 when it spent most of the year hammering out applications. Last year, its focus was on how to extend the group's PC security spec to the cellphone environment with its multiple stakeholders including users, carriers, OEMs and content providers.

To support those different parties, the MTM spec allows multiple roots of trust. A root of trust is a key or certificate typically expressed as a number that can only be obtained by a calculaiton using information private to a system or user. Local roots of trust can support multiple users of a single handset. Remote roots of trust can allow a carrier, OEM or application provider to prove they are trusted enough to modify or "reimage" the handset's operating system or other key software.

Like the existing PC spec, the MTM can use protected memory to store digital keys, certificates and passwords and support integrity checks of the device to measure its health and whether its state has changed.

Those tasks are handled with the same underlying RSA key cryptography for verifying digital certificates and the SHA-1 hashing algorithm employed by the existing PC spec. However, the spec uses those techniques differently to support multiple roots of trust locally and remotely.

Separately, the TCG is evaluating plans to migrate to the SHA-256 algorithm in light of cracks that have shown SHA-1 was more vulnerable than previously thought.

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