TF-M builtin keys


Raef Coles


Arm Limited



When TF-M is integrated on a platform, the platform itself can provide several keys for usage which are bound to the device instead of being owned by a specific secure partition. When those keys are readable by the secure processing environment, the platform must provide a function to load these keys in the HAL layer, either loading them from OTP or another platform specific location or subsystem. These keys are henceforth referred to as “builtin keys”, and might include (but are not limited to) the following:

  1. The Hardware Unique Key (HUK)

  2. The Initial Attestation Key (IAK)

The tfm_builtin_key_loader component implements a mechanism to discover those keys and make them available to the PSA Crypto APIs for usage. Note that if a key is stored in a subsystem which can’t be read by the secure processing environment, a full opaque driver 1 must be used to be able to use those keys through the PSA Crypto APIs. This document focuses only on the case where the keys can be read by the SPE (i.e. running TF-M), so the driver applies only on those cases, which can be considered as “_transparent_ builin keys”.

In TF-M’s legacy solution, the IAK is loaded by the attestation service as a volatile key, which requires some key-loading logic to be implemented by that partition. The HUK is not loaded in the crypto service, and is instead used by an implementation of a TF-M specific KDF algorithm which then loads the key and invokes Mbed TLS directly. Both solutions are far from ideal as they require an effort to load (and duplicate) the keys per each user, or require a dedicated code in TF-M that directly interacts with the HAL layer and invokes functions from the crypto library bypassing the PSA Crypto interface. The aim of the tfm_builtin_key_loader driver is to provide a uniform interface to use the builtin keys available in a platform.

Implementing a driver to deal with builtin keys allows to expand the legacy solution for dealing with this type of keys in several ways. For example, it avoids the need for partitions to implement dedicated mechanisms for probing the HAL layer for builtin keys and load them as volatile. It removes the need to have implementation specific call flows for deriving keys from the HUK (as that requirement now is fulfilled by the driver itself transparently). It allows uniform access to the keys also from the NS world (in any case, subject to the policy dictated by the platform). Correctly abstracts away details of the key handling mechanism from TF-M partitions into the PSA Crypto core key management subsystem.

PSA builtin keys

The PSA Cryptographic API provides a mechanism for accessing keys that are stored in platform-specific locations (often hardware accelerators or OTP). A builtin key is assigned a specific key_id, i.e. a handle, which is hardcoded at build time and must be selected in the range [MBEDTLS_PSA_KEY_ID_BUILTIN_MIN, MBEDLTS_PSA_KEY_ID_BUILTIN_MAX]. A user of the PSA Crypto API can reference those keys directly by using these handles. It is up to the platform to specify policy restrictions for specific users of the keys, e.g. an NS entity, or a secure partition. The PSA Crypto core will then check those policies to grant or deny access to the builtin key for that user.

PSA cryptoprocessor driver API

The PSA specification allows the PSA Crypto APIs to defer their operation to an accelerator driver, through a mechanism described in the PSA cryptoprocessor driver interface specification 1. This specification defines the concept of PSA Crypto core, i.e. “An implementation of the PSA Cryptography API is composed of a core and zero or more drivers”. The PSA specification also has the concept of storage locations for keys, through the type psa_key_location_t, which is used to access keys that don’t have local storage 2. This is leveraged mainly by opaque drivers mainly that use keys for which the key material is not readable by the PSA crypto core layer.

TF-M defines a software driver called tfm_builtin_key_loader that provides no acceleration but just defines a dedicated key location defined through the TFM_BUILTIN_KEY_LOADER_KEY_LOCATION define. By resorting to the entry points provided by this driver, the PSA Crypto core slot management subsystem can access keys stored in the underlying platform, validate key usage policies and allow PSA Crypto APIs to uniformly access builtin keys using the same call flows used with traditional local-storage keys.

This is implemented by hooking the entry points defined by the driver into the library/psa_crypto_driver_wrappers.c file provided by the PSA Crypto core. This is currently done manually but eventually could be just autogenerated by parsing a description of the driver entry points in the JSON format. These entry points are:

  1. tfm_builtin_key_loader_init

  2. tfm_builtin_key_loader_get_key_buffer_size

  3. tfm_builtin_key_loader_get_builtin_key

The call flow for the entry points from the driver wrapper layer is as follows:

  1. During the driver initialisation phase started by the PSA Crypto Core init, the tfm_builtin_key_loader_init function is called to probe the platform HAL and retrieve the builtin keys. Those keys are described by the types defined in the HAL layer interface header tfm_plat_crypto_keys.h. In particular global tables describing key properties and user policies must be implemented by each platform and are retrieved by the two accessor functions tfm_plat_builtin_key_get_desc_table_ptr() and tfm_plat_builtin_key_get_policy_table_ptr(). The keys are loaded from the platform in secure RAM in the TF-M Crypto partition with associated metadata. It’s worth to note that the keys are loaded through callback functions which the platform lists in the key descriptor table.

  2. Once the TF-M Crypto service is initialised, at runtime it might receive a request through an API call to use one of the builtin key IDs. Those IDs are described in the tfm_builtin_key_ids.h header. Platforms can override the default values providing their own header.

  3. When the PSA Crypto core in the psa_get_and_lock_key_slot() function checks that the key_id being requested is in the builtin range region, it probes the platform through the function mbedtls_psa_platform_get_builtin_key which must be implemented by the TF-M Crypto service library abstraction layer. This function just checks the key descriptor table from the HAL to understand if such key_id is available in the platform and what are the corresponding slot and lifetime values associated to it. The lifetime contains the location of the key, which determines which driver is responsible for dealing with it (for the tfm_builtin_key_loader driver, that is TFM_BUILTIN_KEY_LOADER_KEY_LOCATION), while the slot value maps the key to the slot in the driver internal storage.

  4. At this point, the PSA Crypto core knows that the key exists and is bound to the location associated to the driver. By calling into the driver wrappers layer is then able to retrieve the key attributes stored in the platform for that key ID, and the size required to allocate in its internal slot management system in order to load the key material in the core. This is done by calling tfm_builtin_key_loader_get_builtin_key just with a valid key attributes pointer (and nothing else), to retrieve the attributes. Once the attributes are available, the required size is retrieved through the driver wrapper by calling tfm_builtin_key_loader_get_key_buffer_size.

  5. At this stage, the slot management subsystem calls again into the driver wrapper layer through tfm_builtin_key_loader_get_builtin_key with a valid buffer to hold the key material returned by the tfm_builtin_key_loader driver. When loading the key, the user requiring that key_id is validated by the driver code against the policies defined by the platform. If the policies match, the builtin key material and metadata is loaded and is used like a transparent key available to the PSA Crypto core slot management subsystem.

Technical details

Builtin key IDs and overriding

TF-M builtin key IDs are defined in interface/include/crypto_keys/tfm_builtin_key_ids.h through the enum tfm_key_id_builtin_t. They are allocated inside the range that PSA specifies for the builtin keys, i.e. between MBEDTLS_PSA_KEY_ID_BUILTIN_MIN and MBEDLTS_PSA_KEY_ID_BUILTIN_MAX. A platform can specify extra builtin key IDs by setting the PLATFORM_DEFAULT_CRYPTO_KEYS variable to OFF, creating the header tfm_builtin_key_ids.h, and specifying new keys and IDs.

Builtin key access control

A builtin key is accessible by all callers since the key_id associated to it is public information. Access to the keys must be mediated, which is done by matching the user requesting the key_id against the policies available for that user on that particular key in the policy table. If no policies are specified for a specific combination of user and key_id, the usage flags in the key attributes will be all set to zeros, meaning the key will be unusable for any operation for that particular user.

Multi-partition key derivation

The HUK is used for key derivation by any secure partition or NS caller that requires keys that are bound to a particular context. For example, Protected Storage derives keys uniquely for each user of the service which are used to encrypt user files. In order to provide HUK derivation to every secure partition / NS caller, it must be ensured that no service that utilises HUK derivation can derive the same key as another service (simply by using the same inputs for the KDF APIs, i.e. accessing the same base key for derivation).

This is accomplished by deriving a further “platform key” for each builtin key that has PSA_KEY_USAGE_DERIVE set in its attributes. These platform keys are derived from the builtin key, using the partition ID as a KDF input, and can then be used for safely for further derivations by the user, without risks to derive the same keys as other users. This is enforced directly by the tfm_builtin_key_loader driver.


If the NS client ID feature is disabled, all NS callers share a partition ID of -1, and therefore will share a platform key and be therefore be able to derive the same keys as other NS callers.

For keys that are not exposed outside the device, this is transparent to the service that is using the key derivation, as they have no access to the builtin key material and cannot distinguish between keys derived directly from it and keys derived from the platform key. For some builtin keys, deriving platform keys is not acceptable, as the key is used outside the device (i.e. the IAK public key is used to verify attestation tokens) so the actual builtin key is used.

The decision has been taken to derive platform keys for any key that can be used for key derivation (PSA_KEY_USAGE_DERIVE), and not derive platform keys otherwise. For builtin keys that do not derive platform keys but are directly used, care must be taken with access control where multiple partitions have access to the same raw key material.

Mbed TLS transparent builtin keys

Mbed TLS does not natively support transparent builtin keys (transparent keys are keys where the key material is directly accessible by the PSA Crypto core), so some modifications had to be made. Opaque keyslots have the same basic structure as standard transparent key slots, and can be passed to the functions usually reserved for transparent keys, though this is a private implementation detail of the Mbed TLS library and is not specified in the driver interface. Therefore, the only modification required currently is to allow keys that have the location TFM_BUILTIN_KEY_LOADER_KEY_LOCATION to be passed to the functions that usually accept transparent keys only, i.e. with the location PSA_KEY_LOCATION_LOCAL_STORAGE. This is due to the fact that the standard assumption of the PSA Crypto core is that, if a driver that provides an additional location, will also provide dedicated cryptographic mechanisms to act on those keys, but this is not the case of the tfm_builtin_key_loader, as it just provides a mechanism to load keys (which act as a transparent key with local storage, once loaded), but Mbed TLS does not support such “transparent builtin key” concept. Note that the modifications on Mbed TLS are relying on non standard implementation details hence this particular integration can change between releases 3.



PSA cryptoprocessor driver interface:


Definition of psa_key_location_t type in the PSA spec:


Interface for platform keys:

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