Arm's Morello Program one year on: A step closer to securing our digital future


03-11-2020

In 2019, Arm announced the launch of a technology research program called Morello. This is funded by the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Digital Security by Design (DSbD) program, with one transformative goal: to radically update the security foundations of the digital computing infrastructure that underpins the entire economy.

Richard Grisenthwaite, senior vice president, chief architect and fellow at Arm, writes:

This multi-million-pound five year initiative, in collaboration with partners including Google, Microsoft, the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh, has the potential to change how security is implemented in future products, making it far harder for bad actors to take full control of a compute system⁠—even if they manage to hack it.

A year on, we have made great progress. Today, we are publicly releasing the latest developments in the program, including prototype architecture specifications, a platform model, an Open Source Software project and tool chains, and enhanced technical support through a reference manual and dedicated forum. 

Releasing prototype architecture specifications: A major milestone 

When we launched this initiative, I talked about how compartmentalization works to guarantee that if there is a security breach, it will be contained within one compartment, therefore preventing the whole computing system from being compromised. Ultimately, software that is constructed with fine-grained compartmentalization could result in inherently more robust software that is resistant to attack. The Morello prototype architecture aims to improve the robustness and security of systems through the use of this scalable compartmentalization.

Our team has been working hard on this prototype architecture, and in a major new development in the project, Arm’s Morello prototype architecture specifications are now available to download. The architecture introduces the principles defined in the Capability Hardware Enhanced RISC Instructions: CHERI Instruction - Set Architecture, an initiative from the University of Cambridge and SRI International.

Morello Platform Model: Enabling researchers and developers to get ahead

Prior to the launch of the Morello board (targeted for Q1, 2022), we have created a fixed virtual platform (FVP), known as the Morello platform model. The platform model uses Arm technology to create a virtual model of the system hardware, available to use in a development environment. This simulator, including the tool chain, software and documentation, will allow Morello researchers and the DSbD technology-based providers to begin writing code and running software before the prototype evaluation board comes into fruition. The Morello Platform Model is available to download from Arm’s Ecosystem Platform Model Developer page

Significant progress on our Open Source Software and tools

Enabling developers with the software stack, toolchains and development tools to be able to experiment and prototype with this technology is essential and we have been working closely within the ecosystem partners on this:

  • Arm is working with Linaro and the University of Cambridge to provide community access to an Open Source software stack and toolchains which support the Morello Platform Model. 
  • Arm’s adaptation of the University of Cambridge’s experimental CHERI LLVM toolchain includes a C/C++ compiler, linker, debugger, various utilities and run-time libraries. 
  • Alongside the platform model and LLVM compiler, Arm is providing additional freely available tools to aid Morello prototyping, including a Morello edition of the Arm Development Studio.
  • University of Cambridge is releasing a Morello adaptation of its open-source memory-safe CHERI-extended FreeBSD operating system, CheriBSD, a reference design for tight OS integration of CHERI. 


You’ll find more detail on the Morello Open Source Project or you can visit the development tools resources page and our getting started blog.

Equipping the Morello community for success 

Collaboration across key partners in the Morello Program, from companies to university research teams to software developers, is critical to its success. To help this community to work openly and share key learnings, Arm is launching a support forum designed to enable ecosystem partners to ask questions, engage and help each other solve common issues. In addition, a Morello SDP Preliminary Technical Reference Manual (TRM) will also be provided, containing information about the topology and components of the Morello System Development Platform, memory, interrupt maps and register descriptions to support using the Morello Platform Model (FVP).

Our team is excited by the progress the ecosystem has made leading up to these significant new developments, which mean partners now have the tools to begin participating in the program more widely. We remain passionate and committed to this project, which could ultimately result in the implementation of an innovative best-practice security approach capable of protecting future products.

Find out more about Morello

To read more information, click here.

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