From MINIX to TrustZone: The Landscape of Secure Computing in Modern CPUs


“Do AMD or ARM processors contain a feature analogous to the Intel Management Engine? My interest in this subject predates the widespread awareness of MINIX’s presence in processors, and recent discussions, such as Bryan Lunduke’s Linux Thursday video, suggest that AMD chips might include a similar function. Is there any verified information on this matter? Additionally, are there equivalent mechanisms in ARM chips, possibly varying by manufacturer?”


AMD processors incorporate a system called AMD Secure Technology, previously known as the Platform Security Processor (PSP). This subsystem is designed to perform similar functions to the Intel ME, handling security-related tasks at a hardware level. It has faced criticism similar to that of the Intel ME, particularly regarding the potential for security vulnerabilities and the closed nature of its operation.

ARM’s Situation:

ARM processors, widely used in mobile devices, also have a security feature known as TrustZone. TrustZone is not a direct equivalent to the Intel ME but serves a similar purpose in creating a secure environment for sensitive operations. It is implemented on a dedicated ARM processor and is utilized for tasks that require a higher level of security, such as DRM and payment processing.

The free software community has been advocating for more transparency and open-source firmware for these security processors, including AMD’s PSP and ARM’s TrustZone, to allow for independent verification and to address security concerns.

In conclusion, while AMD and ARM chips do not have an exact counterpart to the Intel ME, they do include their own versions of secure processing environments. These are intended to protect sensitive data and operations at the hardware level. However, the debate over the balance between security and user control continues, with many calling for greater openness and the ability for users to opt-out or disable these features if desired. The industry’s response to these concerns will likely evolve as security remains a top priority for manufacturers and users alike..

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