Microsoft partners with device and chip makers on ‘secured-core’ PCs

Secured-core PCs aim to mitigate firmware cyber security threats

Graphic of a secure laptop

Microsoft has joined forces with a number of industry-leading manufacturers to introduce a 'secured-core' verification system for devices that fulfill essential security criteria for business customers.

The programme, which has been underway for several months, involves a partnership between Microsoft and firms including Dynabook, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Panasonic to build machines that include a host of built-in security features.

Designed in the context of rising cyber crime, these devices are specifically aimed at customers in industries such as financial services and healthcare, as well as employees who work in government or handle highly sensitive data.

To be categorised as 'secured-core' PCs, the machines would need to meet a set of requirements that are aligned with the best practices of seamless, security-focused hardware and software integration.

These devices combine a number of facets including identity, virtualisation, operating system (OS), hardware and firmware protection to add additional layers of security beneath the Windows 10 OS. This classification system aims to diverge from machines simply loaded with software-based security systems in the way that they're designed to prevent attacks rather than just detecting them once they've occurred.

"These requirements enable customers to boot securely, protect the device from firmware vulnerabilities, shield the operating system from attacks, prevent unauthorized access to devices and data, and ensure that identity and domain credentials are protected," said Microsoft's partner director for OS security David Weston.

"The built-in measurements can be used by SecOps and IT admins to remotely monitor the health of their systems using System Guard runtime attestation and implement a zero-trust network rooted in hardware.

"This advanced firmware security works in concert with other Windows features to ensure that Secured-core PCs provide comprehensive protections against modern threats," said Weston. 

This Secure Guard Secure Launch mechanism has been implemented in Windows 10 as a key requirement in Secured-core PCs to protect the boot process from firmware attacks.

Moreover, the system uses the Dynamic Root of Trust for Measurement (DRTM) functions built into the latest chips manufactured by AMD, Intel and Qualcomm to protect a device's startup process, and raises the prospects of mitigating against advanced firmware threats.

The Trusted Platform Module 2.0 (TPM) mechanism, meanwhile, is used in these devices to measure the components used during the secure launch process. This is in addition to further safeguards in the form of the System Management Module (SMM) which features several functions that to monitor the OS while it's running and restrict potentially dangerous applications and firmware.

"Our ecosystem partnerships have enabled us to add this additional layer of security in devices that are designed for highly-targeted industries and end-users who handle mission-critical data in some of the most data-sensitive industries," Weston continued.

"These innovations build on the value of Windows 10 Pro that comes with built-in protections like firewall, secure boot, and file-level information-loss protection which are standard on every device."

A number of these Secured-core devices are already available for purchase, including, for example, Dynabook's Tecra X50F and the upcoming Surface Pro X.

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