If you’ve heard the buzz word “TPM” thrown around in cybersecurity discussions and didn’t know what it was, you’re not alone. But this little known piece of hardware plays a key role in keeping one’s computer secure in a world of increasing cyberattacks. 

We go over what TPM is, why it’s important, and how it works to protect your computer and networks. 

TPM – An Explanation

TPM stands for Trusted Platform Module. It is a tiny chip that is usually built into a computer motherboard or in the processor (CPU). It can be separate from the main CPU and memory (RAM).

Simply, a TPM chip is designed to protect the data used to authenticate a particular computer. Think of it as a microcomputer that stores all the data necessary to access your computer from booting up to stored passwords. That data is encrypted and stored on the TPM using keys based on that computer’s particular hardware. 

This setup makes malware attacks difficult against PCs with enabled TPM chips. Only half of the necessary data can be found on the hard disk while the other is stored in the chip. It’s also the reason why a thief can’t bypass the TPM encryption by simply removing the chip and placing it on another motherboard. Or take the hard disk from one PC and insert it into another: the TPM won’t recognize the different artifacts. 

TPMs chips are used in all types of computers:

  • Desktop personal computers and laptops
  • Business / enterprise computers and laptops
  • Industrial panel PCs and laptops
  • Medical computers and laptops

TPM and its standard were created by the Trusted Computing Group (TCG) back in 2003. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) later approved the standard (ISO/IEC 11889). 

TPM 2.0 is the most recent version. It was released back in 2019.

Cyberattacks and How They Led to TPM 2.0

Cyberattacks are at an all-time high with hackers’ abilities becoming more sophisticated every day. Some of the grimmer cybersecurity statistics for 2022 include:

  • Total damage caused by cybercriminals is expected to reach $6 trillion in 2022.
  • Worldwide, there is one cyber attack that takes place every 39 seconds.
  • More than 75 percent of targeted cyber crimes begin with a malicious email.
  • Globally, one ransomware attack occurs every 14 seconds.
  • In the US, only 10 percent of cyber crimes are reported to the authorities like the FBI.

This list of top 10 data breaches for 2022 goes into detail of some of these breaches. The conclusion shows cyberattacks continue to be relentless.

Businesses from the construction industry to healthcare have turned to various methods like single sign-on solutions to protect their computer systems and networks. But they have their limits especially against attacks on the operating system (OS) itself.

Microsoft Windows, as the most popular OS in the world, especially is a target. It’s not surprising the software giant is a member of TCG and a supporter of TPM. The company announced last year that any computers using its upcoming Windows 11 OS will need TPM 2.0 and its advanced security features. David Weston, director of enterprise and OS security at Microsoft, said in the announcement: “PCs of the future need this modern hardware root-of-trust to help protect from both common and sophisticated attacks like ransomware and more sophisticated attacks from nation-states. 

Requiring the TPM 2.0 elevates the standard for hardware security by requiring that built-in root-of-trust.”

TPM – How It Works 

TPM has been likened to those fingerprint or facial recognition systems on a person’s smartphone. 

Unsurprisingly, the process is complex. Broken down, TPM securely stores “artifacts” to validate the industrial panel PC or laptop. Artifacts include passwords, certificates, or encryption keys. A TPM also stores information about the computer hardware called its “platform measurements.” 

When the computer boots up, the TPM checks the state of the computer – is it “trustworthy”, that is, or it has not been tampered with. Artifacts and platform measurements are used in this check.

Trustworthy is determined in two ways: 

  • Authentication – This means the computer can prove that it is what it claims to be. 
  • Attestation – the computer is trustworthy and has not been breached. 

Each TPM chip stores a Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA) encryption key pair called the Endorsement Key (EK). The pair is generated by the TPM based on the EK and by the owner’s password. 

A second key called an Attestation Identity Key (AIK) is also found in TPM. It’s used to protect the computer against unauthorized firmware and software modification, especially networks like the cloud.

Half of the encryption keys are stored on the TPM chip. The other half is stored on the computer hard drive. They are specific to the computer’s hardware configuration. 

The key pair is used during the Authentication and Attestation checks. If everything is normal, the drive encryption is unlocked and the computer boots up and starts. 

The use of encrypting and storing vital login information partially in separate hardware makes accessing sensitive data very difficult. If the TPM chip is removed, the computer will not boot to the drive.  The same thing will happen if a hacker somehow stole the hard disk and tried to access it by attaching it to another computer. The differing keys between the hardware and software simply won’t match. 

TPM 2.0., which is the latest version of TPM, provides several new security features like greater encryption versus the older 1.2. Check to see which version, if any, of TPM on your computer. 

Closing Comment

Cybersecurity continues to be a concern by businesses and consumers as cybercrime continues to grow in the modern era. The Trusted Platform Module (TPM) is one such means being used to secure computers thanks to its combination of hardware and software protections.

If you are looking for more information on the uses of TPM to protect your valuable data, contact a representative from Cybernet. 

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