Protected Storage service key management


Jamie Fox


Arm Limited


Jamie Fox <>


The PSA Protected Storage API requires confidentiality for external storage to be provided by:

cryptographic ciphers using device-bound keys, a tamper resistant enclosure, or an inaccessible deployment location, depending on the threat model of the deployed system.

A TBSA-M-compliant device must embed a Hardware Unique Key (HUK), which provides the root of trust (RoT) for confidentiality in the system. It must have at least 128 bits of entropy (and a 128 bit data size), and be accessible only to Trusted code or Trusted hardware that acts on behalf of Trusted code. [TBSA-M]

Design description

Each time the system boots, PS will request that the Crypto service uses a key derivation function (KDF) to derive a storage key from the HUK. The storage key could be kept in on-chip volatile memory private to the Crypto partition, or it could remain inside a secure element. Either way it will not be returned to PS.

For each call to the PSA Protected Storage APIs, PS will make requests to the Crypto service to perform AEAD encryption and/or decryption operations using the storage key (providing a fresh nonce for each encryption).

At no point will PS access the key material itself, only referring to the HUK and storage key by their handles in the Crypto service.

Key derivation

PS will make key derivation requests to the Crypto service with calls to the PSA Crypto APIs. In order to derive the storage key, the following calls are required:

static psa_key_id_t ps_key;

psa_key_attributes_t attributes = PSA_KEY_ATTRIBUTES_INIT;
psa_key_derivation_operation_t op = PSA_KEY_DERIVATION_OPERATION_INIT;

/* Set the key attributes for the storage key */
psa_set_key_usage_flags(&attributes, PS_KEY_USAGE);
psa_set_key_type(&attributes, PSA_KEY_TYPE_AES);
psa_set_key_bits(&attributes, PSA_BYTES_TO_BITS(PS_KEY_LEN_BYTES));

/* Set up a key derivation operation with HUK derivation as the alg */

/* Supply the PS key label as an input to the key derivation */
status = psa_key_derivation_input_bytes(&op,

/* Create the storage key from the key derivation operation */
status = psa_key_derivation_output_key(&attributes,


key_label is combined with client ID and UID in the PS crypto ref structure.

In the call to psa_key_derivation_setup(), TFM_CRYPTO_ALG_HUK_DERIVATION is supplied as the key derivation algorithm argument. The algorithm identifier refers to key derivation from the HUK and it can be implemented in a platform-defined way (e.g. using a crypto accelerator). The system integrator should choose the most optimal algorithm for the platform, or fall back to the software implementation if none is available.

When implemented in software, the key derivation function used by the crypto service to derive the storage key will be HKDF, with SHA-256 as the underlying hash function. HKDF is suitable because:

  • It is simple and efficient, requiring only two HMAC operations when the length of the output key material is less than or equal to the hash length (as is the case here).

  • The trade-off is that HKDF is only suitable when the input key material has at least as much entropy as required for the output key material. But this is the case here, as the HUK has 128 bits of entropy, the same as required by PS.

  • HKDF is standardised in RFC 5869 [RFC5869] and its security has been formally analysed. [HKDF]

  • It is supported by the TF-M Crypto service.

The choice of underlying hash function is fairly straightforward: it needs to be a modern standardised algorithm, considered to be secure and supported by TF-M Crypto. This narrows it down to just the SHA-2 family. Of the hash functions in the family, SHA-256 is the simplest and provides more than enough output length.

Keeping the storage key private to PS

The salt and label fields are not generally secret, so an Application RoT service could request the Crypto service to derive the same storage key from the HUK, which violates isolation between Application RoT partitions to some extent. This could be fixed in a number of ways:

  • Only PSA RoT partitions can request Crypto to derive keys from the HUK.

    • But then either PS has to be in the PSA RoT or request a service in the PSA RoT to do the derivation on its behalf.

  • PS has a secret (pseudo)random salt, accessible only to it, that it uses to derive the storage key.

    • Where would this salt be stored? It cannot be generated fresh each boot because the storage key must stay the same across reboots.

  • The Crypto service appends the partition ID to the label, so that no two partitions can derive the same key.

    • Still need to make sure only PSA RoT partitions can directly access the HUK or Secure Enclave. The label is not secret, so any actor that can access the HUK could simply perform the derivation itself, rather than making a request to the Crypto service.

The third option would solve the issue with the fewest drawbacks, so this option is the one that is proposed.

Key use

To encrypt and decrypt data, PS will call the PSA Crypto AEAD APIs in the same way as the current implementation, but ps_key will refer to the storage key, rather than the imported HUK. For each encryption operation, the following call is made (and analogously for decryption):

psa_aead_encrypt(ps_key, PS_CRYPTO_ALG,
                 crypto->ref.iv, PS_IV_LEN_BYTES,
                 add, add_len,
                 in, in_len,
                 out, out_size, out_len);



Arm Platform Security Architecture Trusted Base System Architecture for Armv6-M, Armv7-M and Armv8-M, version 1.0


Hugo Krawczyk. 2010. Cryptographic extraction and key derivation: the HKDF scheme. In Proceedings of the 30th annual conference on Advances in cryptology (CRYPTO’10)


IETF RFC 5869: HMAC-based Extract-and-Expand Key Derivation Function (HKDF)

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