Microsoft introduces new secure firmware spec via the Open Compute Project

The Project Olympus specification is now complete and being used in product designs by hardware vendors, Microsoft announced today.

The design was shepherded as an "open source" hardware project under the auspices of the Open Compute Project (OCP), an industry coalition dedicated to fostering open datacenter technologies. Previous open source data center hardware efforts consisted of companies like Facebook and Microsoft open sourcing complete custom hardware specs, not actually having hardware designed the way a lot of open source software gets created.

According to Microsoft in 2016, "the hardware (of Project Olympus) focuses on modularity, cost and power efficiency, and global data centre interoperability". Cavium processors and solutions are supported by an extensive ecosystem of operating systems, tools, application stacks, hardware reference designs and other products.

Kushagra Vaid, general manager of Azure hardware infrastructure at Microsoft, said Project Cerberus "provides a critical component for security protection that to date has been missing from server hardware-protection, detection and recovery from attacks on platform firmware", in a November 8 announcement. Microsoft is already using it for Azure deployments.

Project Olympus hardware is now deployed in volume production with the Fv2 virtual machine (VM) family.

The Project Cerberus specifications are still being drafted, so it's not clear when it will be available, although Vaid notes that Microsoft plans to open source the specs once they are complete. Additionally, Redmond announced that commercial offerings based on the Olympus designs are now offered through Wiwynn and ZT Systems, with more providers on the way.

Microsoft unveiled its latest open hardware project called Project Cerberus, which is aimed at helping organizations harden their cloud environments against cyber-attacks, at the Zettastructure conference in London.

Microsoft meanwhile has also turned its attention to platform security with "Project Cerberus".

We're also entering the next phase of Project Olympus with the introduction of Project Cerberus - a new open sourced industry standard for platform security which will be collaboratively developed with the OCP community in a manner similar to the hardware design. If an attacker, whether it's someone from inside the business or someone hacking in from the outside, can access and then take control of the firmware of a server, they can then burrow deep into the data center itself, gaining access to nearly any data within the cloud infrastructure.

Cerberus therefore "provides a hardware root of trust for firmware on the motherboard (UEFI BIOS, BMC, Options ROMs) as well as on peripheral I/O devices by enforcing strict access control and integrity verification from pre-boot and continuing to runtime".

The software giant said the new chip and associated hardware will be able to protect firmware from some of the most risky threats around, including "malicious insiders", who are often employees that have administrative privileges or access to hardware, and hackers and malware that exploit bugs in operating systems, applications and hypervisors.

"Just as with the Project Olympus open source model, we anticipate that contributing Project Cerberus specifications will enable robust participation from the OCP ecosystem for community development amongst industry participants, and this open collaboration will lead to a more secure model for platform security which will benefit the industry", concluded Vaid.

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