Google has kicked off an effort to make it easier to build secure applications using an open source framework for confidential computing, which enables encrypted data to be processed inline by an application without ever requiring the data to be decrypted.
Asylo is an open-source framework and SDK for developing applications that run in multiple instances of these trusted execution environments (TEEs), said Rob Sadowski, Google Cloud Trust and security marketing lead. TEEs are designed to prevent cyberattacks targeting operating systems, hypervisors, drivers and firmware.
Asylo makes it possible for developers to build confidential computing applications that can be ported across multiple types of processors. Version 0.2 of Asylo will offer an SDK and tools to help developers create portable enclave applications. In the future, Google plans to provide the ability to run existing applications in a TEE using an Asylo container. Asylo will be compatible with the Kubernetes container orchestration engine and the Istio services mesh, which Google has played a leading role in developing.
Multiple processors have extended their instruction sets to enable confidential computing, but developers have been required to master the nuances of each of those extensions. Each application also winds up being locked into those extensions. Google is working to ensure Asylo will be compatible with AMD Secure Encryption Virtualization (SEV) technology, Intel Software Guard Extensions (Intel SGX) and other similar extensions to hardware platforms.
Sadowski said an open source framework that makes it easier to build secure applications also represents a significant advancement for DevSecOps. Today, constructing confidential computing applications is simply too painstaking and time-consuming for most developers to master. A framework for building secure applications provides a high level of abstraction that is easier to master.
Google is not recommending that every application going forward should include confidential computing functions. There are still significant application performance trade-offs to be considered. But there is an increasing number of applications in which data security issues will trump those performance concerns.
Most developers don’t set out to build insecure applications. Arguably, IT vendors have simply made it too difficult. A framework that enables applications that run in TEEs to be built more easily is likely to be received well by developers and cybersecurity professionals alike, as cybercriminals are taking advantage of advanced vulnerability scanning tools to identify potential exploits up and down the entire computing stack, including unpatched operating systems and firmware.
It’s too early to say how much mainstream adoption of confidential computing there will be. Most of its usage has been limited to government agencies and financial services organizations that have enough budget dollars to build, maintain and run these applications. Asylo should go a long way toward making TEEs more accessible to the average developer in a way that should lift much of the burden put on DevSecOps teams, who today struggle to secure data strewn across the extended enterprise.