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Security through collaboration: Building a more secure future with Confidential Computing

At Google Cloud, we believe that the protection of our customers’ sensitive data is paramount, and encryption is a powerful mechanism to help achieve this goal. For years, we have supported encryption in transit when our customers ingest their data to bring it to the cloud. We’ve also long supported encryption at rest, for all customer content stored in Google Cloud. 

To complete the full data protection lifecycle, we can protect customer data when it’s processed through our Confidential Computing portfolio. Confidential Computing products from Google Cloud protect data in use by performing computation in a hardware isolated environment that is encrypted with keys managed by the processor and unavailable to the operator. These isolated environments help prevent unauthorized access or modification of applications and data while in use, thereby increasing the security assurances for organizations that manage sensitive and regulated data in public cloud infrastructure. 

Secure isolation has always been a critical component of our cloud infrastructure; with Confidential Computing, this isolation is cryptographically reinforced. Google Cloud’s Confidential Computing products leverage security components in AMD EPYC™ processors including AMD Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV) technology.

Building trust in Confidential Computing through industry collaboration

Part of our mission to bring Confidential Computing technology to more cloud workloads and services is to make sure that the hardware and software used to build these technologies is continuously reviewed and tested. We evaluate different attack vectors to help ensure Google Cloud Confidential Computing environments are protected against a broad range of attacks. As part of this evaluation, we recognize that the secure use of our services and the Internet ecosystem as a whole depends on interactions with applications, hardware, software, and services that Google doesn’t own or operate. 

The Google Cloud Security team, Google Project Zero, and the AMD firmware and product security teams collaborated for several months to conduct a detailed review of the technology and firmware that powers AMD Confidential Computing technology. This review covered both Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV) capable CPUs, and the next generation of Secure Nested Paging (SEV-SNP) capable CPUs which protect confidential VMs against the hypervisor itself. The goal of this review was to work together and analyze the firmware and technologies AMD uses to help build Google Cloud’s Confidential Computing services to further build trust in these technologies.

This in-depth review focused on the implementation of the AMD secure processor in the third generation AMD EPYC processor family delivering SEV-SNP. SNP further improves the posture of confidential computing using technology that removes the hypervisor from the trust boundary of the guest, allowing customers to treat the Cloud Service Provider as another untrusted party. The review covered several AMD secure processor components and evaluated multiple different attack vectors. The collective group reviewed the design and source code implementation of SEV, wrote custom test code, and ran hardware security tests, attempting to identify any potential vulnerabilities that could affect this environment.

PCIe hardware pentesting using an IO screamer

Working on this review, the security teams identified and confirmed potential issues of varying severity. AMD was diligent in fixing all applicable issues and now offers updated firmware through its OEM channels. Google Cloud’s AMD-based Confidential Computing solutions now include all the mitigations implemented during the security review.

“At Google, we believe that investing in security research outside of our own platforms is a critical step in keeping organizations across the broader ecosystem safe,” said Royal Hansen, vice president of Security Engineering at Google. “At the end of the day, we all benefit from a secure ecosystem that organizations rely on for their technology needs and that is why we’re incredibly appreciative of our strong collaboration with AMD on these efforts.” 

“Together, AMD and Google Cloud are continuing to advance Confidential Computing, helping enterprises to move sensitive workloads to the cloud with high levels of privacy and security, without compromising performance,” said Mark Papermaster, AMD’s executive vice president and chief technology officer. ”Continuously investing in the security of these technologies through collaboration with the industry is critical to providing customer transformation through Confidential Computing. We’re thankful to have partnered with Google Cloud and the Google Security teams to advance our security technology and help shape future Confidential Computing innovations to come.”  

Reviewing trusted execution environments for security is difficult given the closed-source firmware and proprietary hardware components. This is why research and collaborations such as this are critical to improve the security of foundational components that support the broader Internet ecosystem. AMD and Google believe that transparency helps provide further assurance to customers adopting Confidential Computing, and to that end AMD is working toward a model of open source security firmware.

With the analysis now complete and the vulnerabilities addressed, the AMD and Google security teams agree that the AMD firmware which enables Confidential Computing solutions meets an elevated security bar for customers, as the firmware design updates mitigate several bug classes and offer a way to recover from vulnerabilities. More importantly, the review also found that Confidential VMs are protected against a broad range of attacks described in the review.

Google Cloud’s Confidential Computing portfolio 

The Google Cloud Confidential VMs, Dataproc Confidential Compute, and Confidential GKE Nodes have enabled high levels of security and privacy to address our customers’ data protection needs without compromising usability, performance, and scale. Our mission is to make this technology ubiquitous across the cloud. Confidential VMs run on hosts with AMD EPYC processors which feature AMD Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV). Incorporating SEV into Confidential VMs provide benefits and features including: 

Isolation: Memory encryption keys are generated by the AMD Secure Processor during VM creation and reside solely within the AMD Secure Processor. Other VM encryption keys such as for disk encryption can be generated and managed by an external key manager or in Google Cloud HSM. Both sets of these keys are not accessible by Google Cloud, offering strong isolation. 

Attestation: Confidential VMs use Virtual Trusted Platform Module (vTPM) attestation. Every time a Confidential VM boots, a launch attestation report event is generated and posted to customer cloud logging, which gives administrators the opportunity to act as necessary.

Performance: Confidential Computing offers high performance for demanding computational tasks. Enabling Confidential VM has little or no impact on most workloads. 

The future of Confidential Computing and secure platforms

While there are no absolutes in computer security, collaborative research efforts help uncover security vulnerabilities that can emerge in complex environments and help to prevent Confidential Computing solutions from threats today and into the future. Ultimately, this helps us increase levels of trust for customers. 

We believe Confidential Computing is an industry-wide effort that is critical for securing sensitive workloads in the cloud and are grateful to AMD for their continued collaboration on this journey. 

To read the full security review, visit this page


We thank the many Google security team members who contributed to this ongoing security collaboration and review, including James Forshaw, Jann Horn and Mark Brand.

We are grateful for the open collaboration with AMD engineers, and wish to thank David Kaplan, Richard Relph and Nathan Nadarajah for their commitment to product security. We would also like to thank AMD leadership: Ab Nacef, Prabhu Jayanna, Hugo Romero, Andrej Zdravkovic and Mark Papermaster for their support of this joint effort.

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