Tech News: Transformed computer chip foils an army of hackers.
Last summer, 525 security researchers spent three months trying to hack our Morpheus processor and others. All attempts against Morpheus failed. This study was part of a program sponsored by the US Defense Advanced Research Program Agency to design a secure processor that can protect vulnerable software. DARPA first released the program results to the public in January 2021.
A processor is the piece of computer hardware that runs software programs. Since a processor is the foundation of all software systems, a secure processor has the potential to protect any software running on it from attack. Our team at the University of Michigan first developed Morpheus, a secure processor that thwarts attacks by turning the computer into a puzzle, in 2019.
A processor has an architecture – x86 for most laptops and ARM for most phones – which is the set of instructions the software must execute on the processor. Processors also have a microarchitecture, or “guts,” that allows the instruction set to execute, the speed of this execution, and the amount of power it consumes.
Academic efforts, such as the capability hardware-enhanced RISC instructions at the University of Cambridge, have demonstrated strong protection against memory bugs. Commercial efforts have also begun, such as Intel’s upcoming control flow control Technology.
Morpheus takes a noticeably different approach by ignoring bugs and instead randomizes its internal implementation to thwart exploitation of bugs. Fortunately, these are complementary techniques and their combination will likely make systems even more difficult to attack.