Symmetric key algorithm based Initial Attestation


David Hu


Arm Limited



This document proposes a design of symmetric key algorithm based Initial Attestation in TF-M.

Symmetric key algorithm based Initial Attestation (symmetric Initial Attestation for short) signs and verifies Initial Attestation Token (IAT) with a symmetric cryptography signature scheme, such as HMAC. It can reduce TF-M binary size and memory footprint on ultra-constrained devices without integrating asymmetric ciphers.

This proposal follows PSA Attestation API document 1.


As pointed out by PSA Attestation API 1, the use cases of Initial Attestation based on symmetric key algorithms can be limited due to the associated infrastructure costs for key management and operational complexities. It may also restrict the ability to interoperate with scenarios that involve third parties.

Design overview

The symmetric Initial Attestation follows the existing IAT generation sequence for Initial Attestation based on asymmetric key algorithm (asymmetric Initial Attestation for short).

As Profile Small design 2 requests, a configuration flag SYMMETRIC_INITIAL_ATTESTATION selects symmetric initial attestation during build.

The top-level design is shown in Overall design diagram below.


Figure 13: Overall design diagram

Symmetric Initial Attestation adds its own implementations of some steps in IAT generation in Initial Attestation secure service. More details are covered in IAT generation in Initial Attestation secure service.

The interfaces and procedures of Initial Attestation secure service are not affected. Refer to Initial Attestation Service Integration Guide 3 for details of the implementation of Initial Attestation secure service.

Symmetric Initial Attestation invokes t_cose library to build up COSE_Mac0 structure. COSE_Mac0 support is added to t_cose library in TF-M since official t_cose hasn’t supported COSE_Mac0 yet. The design of COSE_Mac0 support is covered in COSE_Mac0 support in t_cose.


The COSE_Mac0 implementation in this proposal is a prototype only for Proof of Concept so far. It may be replaced after t_cose officially supports COSE_Mac0 message.

Several HAL APIs are defined to fetch platform specific assets required by Symmetric Initial Attestation. For example, tfm_plat_get_symmetric_iak() fetches symmetric Initial Attestation Key (IAK). Those HAL APIs are summarized in HAL APIs.

Decoding and verification of symmetric Initial Attestation is also included in this proposal for regression test. The test suites and IAT decoding are discussed in TF-M Test suite.

QCBOR library and Crypto service are also invoked. But this proposal doesn’t require any modification to either QCBOR or Crypto service. Therefore, descriptions of QCBOR and Crypto service are skipped in this document.

IAT generation in Initial Attestation secure service

The sequence of IAT generation of symmetric Initial Attestation is shown in Symmetric IAT generation flow in Initial Attestation secure service below. Note that the Register symmetric IAK stage is no longer required due to changes in the Crypto partition (attest_symmetric_key.c is now responsible only for calculating the instance ID).


Figure 14: Symmetric IAT generation flow in Initial Attestation secure service

In Initial Attestation secure service, symmetric Initial Attestation implements the following steps in attest_create_token(), which are different from those of asymmetric Initial Attestation.

  • attest_token_start()

  • Instance ID claims

  • attest_token_finish()

If SYMMETRIC_INITIAL_ATTESTATION is selected, symmetric Initial Attestation dedicated implementations of those steps are included in build. Otherwise, asymmetric Initial Attestation dedicated implementations are included instead.

Symmetric Initial Attestation implementation resides a new file attest_symmetric_key.c to handle symmetric Instance ID related operations. Symmetric Initial Attestation dedicated attest_token_start() and attest_token_finish() are added in attestation_token.c.

The details are covered in following sections.

Symmetric Instance ID

Symmetric Initial Attestation dedicated attest_symmetric_key.c implements the attest_get_instance_id() function. This function returns the Instance ID value, calculating it if it has not already been calculated. Refer to Instance ID claim_ for more details.


Only symmetric IAK for HMAC algorithm is allowed so far.

Instance ID calculation

In symmetric Initial Attestation, Instance ID is also calculated the first time it is requested. It can protect critical symmetric IAK from being frequently fetched, which increases the risk of asset disclosure.

The Instance ID value is the output of hashing symmetric IAK raw data twice, as requested in PSA Attestation API 1. HMAC-SHA256 may be hard-coded as the hash algorithm of Instance ID calculation.


According to RFC2104 4, if a HMAC key is longer than the HMAC block size, the key will be first hashed. The hash output is used as the key in HMAC computation.

In current design, HMAC is used to calculate the authentication tag of COSE_Mac0. Assume that symmetric IAK is longer than HMAC block size (HMAC-SHA256 by default), the Instance ID is actually the HMAC key for COSE_Mac0 authentication tag generation, if Instance ID value is the output of hashing IAK only once. Therefore, attackers may request an valid IAT from device and fake malicious ones by using Instance ID to calculate valid authentication tags, to cheat others.

As a result, symmetric IAK raw data should be hashed twice to generate the Instance ID value.

The Instance ID calculation result is stored in a static buffer. Token generation process can call attest_get_instance_id() to fetch the data from that static buffer.


Symmetric Initial Attestation dedicated attest_token_start() initializes the COSE_Mac0 signing context and builds up the COSE_Mac0 Header.

The workflow inside attest_token_start() is shown in Workflow in symmetric Initial Attestation attest_token_start() below.


Figure 15: Workflow in symmetric Initial Attestation attest_token_start()

Descriptions of each step are listed below:

  1. t_cose_mac0_sign_init() is invoked to initialize COSE_Mac0 signing context in t_cose.

  2. The symmetric IAK handle is set into COSE_Mac0 signing context via t_cose_mac0_set_signing_key().

  3. Initialize QCBOR encoder.

  4. The header parameters are encoded into COSE_Mac0 structure in t_cose_mac0_encode_parameters().

  5. QCBOREncode_OpenMap() prepares for encoding the COSE_Mac0 payload, which is filled with IAT claims.

All the COSE_Mac0 functionalities in t_cose are covered in COSE_Mac0 support in t_cose.

Instance ID claim

Symmetric Initial Attestation also implements Instance ID claims in attest_add_instance_id_claim().

The Instance ID value is fetched via attest_get_instance_id(). The value has already been calculated during symmetric IAK registration. See Instance ID calculation for details.

The other steps are the same as those in asymmetric Initial Attestation implementation. The UEID type byte is set to 0x01.


Symmetric Initial Attestation dedicated attest_token_finish() calls t_cose_mac0_encode_tag() to calculate and encode the authentication tag of COSE_Mac0 structure.

The whole COSE and CBOR encoding are completed in attest_token_finish().

The simplified flow in attest_token_finish() is shown in Workflow in symmetric Initial Attestation attest_token_finish() below.


Figure 16: Workflow in symmetric Initial Attestation attest_token_finish()

COSE_Mac0 support in t_cose

COSE_Mac0 supports in t_cose in TF-M include the following major functionalities:

  • Encoding COSE_Mac0 structure

  • Decoding and verifying COSE_Mac0 structure

  • HMAC computation to generate and verify authentication tag

  • Short-circuit tagging for test mode

According to RFC8152 5, COSE_Mac0 and COSE_Sign1 have similar structures. Therefore, the prototype follows COSE_Sign1 implementation to build up COSE_Mac0 file structure and implement COSE_Mac0 encoding and decoding.

Although COSE_Mac0 can share lots of data types, APIs and encoding/decoding steps with COSE_Sign1 in implementation, this prototype separates COSE_Mac0 implementation from COSE_Sign1. COSE_Mac0 owns its dedicated signing/verification contexts, APIs and encoding/decoding process. The purposes of separating COSE_Mac0 and COSE_Sign1 are listed below

  • It can keep changes to COSE_Sign1 as small as possible and avoid conflicts with development in COSE_Sign1`. It can decrease conflicts if t_cose in TF-M is synchronized with original t_cose repository later.

  • COSE_Mac0 and COSE_Sign1 are exclusive in TF-M use cases. It cannot decrease TF-M memory footprint by extracting the common components shared by COSE_Mac0 and COSE_Sign1 but can make the design over-complicated.


Only HMAC is supported in current COSE_Mac0 prototype.

File structure

New files are added to implement the functionalities listed above. The structure of files is shown in the table below.

Table 47: New files in t_cose






Encode COSE_Mac0 structure


Decode and verify COSE_Mac0 structure.



Data type definitions and function declarations of encoding and signing COSE_Mac0 message.


Data type definitions and function declarations of verifying COSE_Mac0 message.

Other t_cose files may also be changed to add COSE_Mac0 associated data types and function declarations.

HMAC operations are added in crypto_adapters/t_cose_psa_crypto.c. Preprocessor flags are added to select corresponding crypto for COSE message signing and verification.

  • T_COSE_ENABLE_SIGN1 selects ECDSA and Hash operations for COSE_Sign1.

  • T_COSE_ENABLE_MAC0 selects HMAC operations for COSE_Mac0.

Encoding COSE_Mac0

Following COSE_Sign1 implementation, COSE_Mac0 encoding exports similar functions to Initial Attestation secure service. The major functions are listed below.

Initialize signing context

t_cose_mac0_sign_init() initializes COSE_Mac0 signing context and configures option flags and algorithm used in signing.

static void
t_cose_mac0_sign_init(struct t_cose_mac0_sign_ctx *me,
                      int32_t                      option_flags,
                      int32_t                      cose_algorithm_id);

The COSE_Mac0 signing context is defined as

struct t_cose_mac0_sign_ctx {
    /* Private data structure */
    uint8_t               protected_parameters_buffer[
    struct q_useful_buf_c protected_parameters; /* The encoded protected parameters */
    int32_t               cose_algorithm_id;
    struct t_cose_key     signing_key;
    int32_t               option_flags;
    struct q_useful_buf_c kid;

Set signing key

t_cose_mac0_set_signing_key() sets the key used in COSE_Mac0 signing. Optional kid, as a key identifer, will be encoded into COSE_Mac0 Header unprotected bucket.

static void
t_cose_mac0_set_signing_key(struct t_cose_mac0_sign_ctx *me,
                            struct t_cose_key            signing_key,
                            struct q_useful_buf_c        kid);

Encode Header parameters

t_cose_mac0_encode_parameters() encodes the COSE_Mac0 Header parameters and outputs the encoded context to cbor_encode_ctx.

enum t_cose_err_t
t_cose_mac0_encode_parameters(struct t_cose_mac0_sign_ctx *context,
                              QCBOREncodeContext          *cbor_encode_ctx);

Calculate and add authentication tag

t_cose_mac0_encode_tag() calculates the authentication tag and finishes the COSE_Mac0 message.

enum t_cose_err_t
t_cose_mac0_encode_tag(struct t_cose_mac0_sign_ctx *context,
                       QCBOREncodeContext          *cbor_encode_ctx);

Decoding COSE_Mac0

Following COSE_Sign1 implementation, COSE_Mac0 decoding exports similar functions to test suite of Initial Attestation. The major functions are listed below.

Initialize verification context

t_cose_mac0_verify_init() initializes COSE_Mac0 verification context and configures option flags in verification.

static void
t_cose_mac0_verify_init(struct t_cose_mac0_verify_ctx *context,
                        int32_t                        option_flags);

The COSE_Mac0 verification context is defined as

struct t_cose_mac0_verify_ctx {
    /* Private data structure */
    struct t_cose_key     verification_key;
    int32_t               option_flags;

Set verification key

t_cose_mac0_set_verify_key() sets the key for verifying COSE_Mac0 authentication tag.

static void
t_cose_mac0_set_verify_key(struct t_cose_mac0_verify_ctx *context,
                           struct t_cose_key              verify_key);

Decode and verify COSE_Mac0

t_cose_mac0_verify() decodes the COSE_Mac0 structure and verifies the authentication tag.

enum t_cose_err_t
t_cose_mac0_verify(struct t_cose_mac0_verify_ctx *context,
                   struct q_useful_buf_c          cose_mac0,
                   struct q_useful_buf_c         *payload,
                   struct t_cose_parameters      *parameters);

Short-circuit tagging

If T_COSE_OPT_SHORT_CIRCUIT_TAG option is enabled, COSE_Mac0 encoding will hash the COSE_Mac0 content and add the hash output as an authentication tag. It is useful when critical symmetric IAK is unavailable or cannot be accessed, perhaps because it has not been provisioned or configured for the particular device. It is only for test and must not be used in actual use case. The kid parameter will either be skipped in COSE_Mac0 Header.

If T_COSE_OPT_ALLOW_SHORT_CIRCUIT option is enabled, COSE_Mac0 decoding will only verify the hash output, without requiring symmetric key for authentication tag verification.

TF-M Test suite

Symmetric Initial Attestation adds dedicated non-secure and secure test suites. The test suites also follow asymmetric Initial Attestation test suites implementation but optimize the memory footprint. Symmetric Initial Attestation non-secure and secure test suites request Initial Attestation secure service to generate IATs. After IATs are generated successfully, test suites decode IATs and parse the claims. Secure test suite also verifies the authentication tag in COSE_Mac0 structure.

Symmetric Initial Attestation implements its dedicated attest_token_decode_validate_token() in attest_symmetric_iat_decoded.c to perform IAT decoding required by test suites. If SYMMETRIC_INITIAL_ATTESTATION is selected, attest_symmetric_iat_decoded.c is included in build. Otherwise, asymmetric Initial Attestation dedicated implementations are included instead.

The workflow of symmetric Initial Attestation dedicated attest_token_decode_validate_token() is shown below.


Figure 17: Workflow in symmetric Initial Attestation attest_token_decode_validate_token()

If the decoding is required from secure test suite, attest_token_decode_validate_token() will fetch symmetric IAK to verify the authentication tag in COSE_Mac0 structure. If the decoding is required from non-secure test suite, attest_token_decode_validate_token() will decode COSE_Mac0 only by setting T_COSE_OPT_DECODE_ONLY option flag. Non-secure must not access the symmetric IAK.


HAL APIs are summarized below.

Fetch device symmetric IAK

tfm_plat_get_symmetric_iak() fetches device symmetric IAK.

enum tfm_plat_err_t tfm_plat_get_symmetric_iak(uint8_t *key_buf,
                                               size_t buf_len,
                                               size_t *key_len,
                                               psa_algorithm_t *key_alg);



Buffer to store the symmetric IAK.


The length of key_buf.


The length of the symmetric IAK.


The key algorithm. Only HMAC SHA-256 is supported so far.

It returns error code specified in enum tfm_plat_err_t.

Get symmetric IAK key identifier

attest_plat_get_symmetric_iak_id() gets the key identifier of the symmetric IAK as the kid parameter in COSE Header.

Optional if device doesn’t install a key identifier for symmetric IAK.

enum tfm_plat_err_t attest_plat_get_symmetric_iak_id(void *kid_buf,
                                                     size_t buf_len,
                                                     size_t *kid_len);



Buffer to store the IAK identifier.


The length of kid_buf.


The length of the IAK identifier.

It returns error code specified in enum tfm_plat_err_t.