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Department of Computer Science and Technology

lowRISC is a not-for-profit company that uses collaborative engineering to build open source silicon designs and tools.

The company is a spin-out from the Department of Computer Science and Technology, and is based in Cambridge. Dr Robert Mullins, Reader in Computer Architecture in the Department, is a director and co-founder of lowRISC. Co-founders Dr Gavin Ferris and Alex Bradbury are also alumni of the Department, as are several members of the engineering team.

OpenTitan project

On 5th November lowRISC launched the OpenTitan silicon root of trust (RoT) project. OpenTitan is a new effort built using the successful collaborative engineering model created by lowRISC in partnership with Google and other commercial and academic partners.

This effort sets a new bar for transparency in trusted silicon. lowRISC will serve as both steward and not-for-profit engineering contributor to OpenTitan, the world’s first open source silicon RoT.

Silicon root of trust chips increase trust in the integrity of the infrastructure on which software runs. They can be used in a variety of devices: server motherboards, network cards, laptops, phones, consumer routers, IoT devices, and more. Potential security benefits from a silicon root of trust include:

  • Establishing trust at the lowest level in the system - the silicon; independent of the main processor and operating system.
  • Leveraging a secure foundation to ensure the integrity of the lowest level mutable firmware of the device.
  • Giving the device a cryptographically strong identity. For example, this enables a datacenter control plane to verify provenance before a new machine is admitted into the fleet.
  • Enabling secure storage, including physical attack resistance (e.g., a server in a third-party datacenter or moving through the supply chain).
  • Providing tamper-evident logging, integrity measurements, integrated universal 2nd-factor devices, and other security services.

Open sourcing the silicon design makes it more transparent, trustworthy, and ultimately, secure.

Andy Hopper appointed as Chair of the Board

On the same day, lowRISC also announced that Professor Andy Hopper, CBE FRS FIET FREng, has joined the lowRISC Board of Directors as Independent Chair.

“I’m delighted to be joining lowRISC CIC,” said Professor Hopper. “As digital systems pervade every aspect of our lives trust and transparency become crucial. An open source approach allows for public inspection of the principles and implementations being used. I believe the future of digital systems will be underpinned by not for profit organisations that provide design transparency and enable real innovation. I am putting all my weight behind lowRISC because it is an indispensable component of our digital world.”

Andy Hopper is Professor of Computer Technology at the University of Cambridge, and Head of the Department of Computer Science from 2004 to 2018. He is Treasurer and Vice-President of the Royal Society and a pivotal figure in the UK technology scene. He was the Research Director of Acorn Computers from 1979-85, during which period the pioneering ARM1 RISC processor was developed.

Published by Jonathan Goddard on Wednesday 6th November 2019