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History of the TPM

A Trusted Platform Module, also known as a TPM, is a cryptographic coprocessor that is present on most commercial PCs and servers. In terms of being present in computers, TPMs are nearly ubiquitous, but until recently they've been mostly invisible to users due to lack of compelling applications that use them. That situation is rapidly changing. With the recent awarding of Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) certification to various TPM designs, and recommendations from the President's Council of Advisors that the United States government begin using TPMs to defend the nation's computers, the TPM has become a strategic asset for computer owners to defend their cryptographic assets. It is still true that very few people know enough about TPMs to use them in an advantageous manner, a situation that motivated the writing of this book. This chapter introduces you to TPMs, starting with TPM 1.1b, and describes the history of TPM 2.0's predecessors.

Why a TPM?

In the 1990s, it became increasingly obvious to people in the computer industry that the Internet was going to change the way personal computers were connected, and that commerce was going to move toward this environment. This immediately led to a realization that there was a need for increased security in personal computers. When PCs were first designed, little thought was given to their security, so the hardware did not support it. Additionally, software was designed without any thought to security—ease of use was the main driving force in software development.

The computer engineers who got together to develop the first TPMs—and who were part of what came to be known as the Trusted Computing Group (TCG)—were trying to reverse this trend and create a hardware anchor for PC system security on which secure systems could be built. Cost pressures dictated that any such solution had to be very cheap. The result was a hardware TPM chip intended to be physically attached to the motherboard of a PC. The TPM command set was architected to provide all functions necessary for its security use cases, detailed in Chapter 3; but anything not absolutely necessary was moved off chip to software, to keep the cost down. As a result, the specification was hard to read, because it wasn't obvious how commands were to be used when a lot of the logic was left to software. This started a trend in unreadability that has continued through all the updates to the specification.

Hardware security is not an easy topic to begin with, and it doesn't help to have a specification that is hard to understand. A good starting place to understand this technology is the history of its development.

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