For those worried about Microsoft's Pluton TPM chip: Lenovo won't even switch it on by default in latest ThinkPads

Folks can enable or disable it, install Linux as normal. Just sayin'


PCs coming out this year with Microsoft's integrated Pluton security chip won't be locked down to Windows 11, and users will have the option to turn off the feature completely as well as install, say, Linux as normal, we understand.

The first Windows 11 PCs with Pluton built-in were shown at CES earlier this month. Major PC chip houses – think Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm – are said to be embedding Pluton inside their just-launched or upcoming microprocessors.

Pluton can act as a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) or as a non-TPM security coprocessor. It's a way for Microsoft to specify exactly how it wants a TPM component to be present in microprocessors so that Windows 11 can use the hardware as a root-of-trust and secure its stuff.

Microsoft's invasion at the hardware level has some users – especially those in the open-source community – on high alert. The concern relates to the chip being a means to lock equipment exclusively to Windows 11, shutting out other operating systems, such as Linux distros and the BSDs. Manufacturers tell us that's not the case: Pluton won't get in the way.

We provide the ability for a user to enable or disable Pluton based on their preferences in our reference BIOS

AMD integrated Microsoft's Pluton design into its Ryzen 6000 chips, which were just introduced at CES. AMD said its goal is to bring better security to Windows PCs, and users can disable Pluton on machines that follow AMD's reference firmware.

"AMD respects user choice and, as is typical with many other security technologies, we provide the ability for a user to enable or disable Pluton based on their preferences in our reference BIOS," an AMD spokeswoman told The Register.

Pluton does not restrict Linux installation, and is a security component for Windows deployments, the spokeswoman added.

"AMD Ryzen 6000 Series processors support Linux. AMD has closely collaborated with Canonical (Ubuntu) and Red Hat to certify and optimize OEM designs with their operating systems," she said.

Lenovo at CES announced ThinkPads powered by the aforementioned AMD Ryzen chips, and these laptops will ship without Pluton turned on.

"Pluton will be disabled by default on 2022 Lenovo ThinkPad platforms. Specifically the Z13, Z16, T14, T16, T14s, P16s and X13 using AMD 6000-series processors. Customers will have the ability to enable Pluton themselves," a Lenovo spokesperson told The Register.

An Intel spokesman told The Register its latest Alder Lake PC processors will run Linux, and that its chips already include a Pluton-equivalent called Intel Platform Trust Technology. This is a TPM 2.0 compatible component.

Pluton is designed for Windows, and using it with Linux "is currently an unsupported scenario," a Microsoft spokesperson told The Register.

"Pluton is a hardware security technology that could be used by various OS components similar to how OS code can choose to use the TPM. Linux already has support for TPMs today, however Microsoft’s current focus is ensuring an optimal experience for Windows 11," the IT giant's PR team explained in an email.

To be sure, Apple and Google have homegrown security processors in their own devices. Microsoft largely collaborates with chip makers to tune processors for Windows, though Pluton marks a milestone in Microsoft's growing efforts to develop custom silicon.

In this case, getting a TPM-like unit within microprocessors rather than, or in addition to, TPM hardware present in the motherboard chipset.

It's up to PC makers to make this opt in or opt out

Pluton can act as a TPM baked onto the processor die, where it can secure the storage of keys and other sensitive information, and check the integrity of the running Windows system, while keeping its communication signals with the main CPU cores away from prying eyes and private within the same processor package. In other words, the integration should prevent TPM-CPU bus traffic from being physically sniffed and decoded. Or rather, that's the sales pitch.

Pluton for PCs evolved from security mechanisms in the Xbox console family and the Azure Sphere IoT platform. Microsoft has said Pluton provides "chip to cloud" security, with firmware updates coming through Windows Update.

"Pluton for Windows computers will be integrated with the Windows Update process in the same way that the Azure Sphere Security Service connects to IoT devices," Microsoft said in a blog entry describing the tech.

Microsoft has demonstrated that Pluton could be built into IoT systems based on Linux.

But the Xbox roots of Pluton has netizens worried about it being some kind of DRM or copy protection tool. Microsoft has argued Pluton is more of a building block to address the long-standing problem of securing Windows PCs from bad actors.

PC makers can choose to ship computers with Pluton turned off, and the technology does not verify the signature of bootloaders, Microsoft PR said. The security processor can be configured to act as a TPM, or used in a non-TPM scenario, or disabled.

Microsoft told The Register it is interested in helping customers secure their open-source environments, giving the example of a proposal and shared code for a new Linux Security Module to authorize code execution by policy. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Verizon: Ransomware sees biggest jump in five years
    We're only here for DBIRs

    The cybersecurity landscape continues to expand and evolve rapidly, fueled in large part by the cat-and-mouse game between miscreants trying to get into corporate IT environments and those hired by enterprises and security vendors to keep them out.

    Despite all that, Verizon's annual security breach report is again showing that there are constants in the field, including that ransomware continues to be a fast-growing threat and that the "human element" still plays a central role in most security breaches, whether it's through social engineering, bad decisions, or similar.

    According to the US carrier's 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) released this week [PDF], ransomware accounted for 25 percent of the observed security incidents that occurred between November 1, 2020, and October 31, 2021, and was present in 70 percent of all malware infections. Ransomware outbreaks increased 13 percent year-over-year, a larger increase than the previous five years combined.

    Continue reading
  • Slack-for-engineers Mattermost on open source and data sovereignty
    Control and access are becoming a hot button for orgs

    Interview "It's our data, it's our intellectual property. Being able to migrate it out those systems is near impossible... It was a real frustration for us."

    These were the words of communication and collaboration platform Mattermost's founder and CTO, Corey Hulen, speaking to The Register about open source, sovereignty and audio bridges.

    "Some of the history of Mattermost is exactly that problem," says Hulen of the issue of closed source software. "We were using proprietary tools – we were not a collaboration platform before, we were a games company before – [and] we were extremely frustrated because we couldn't get our intellectual property out of those systems..."

    Continue reading
  • UK government having hard time complying with its own IR35 tax rules
    This shouldn't come as much of a surprise if you've been reading the headlines at all

    Government departments are guilty of high levels of non-compliance with the UK's off-payroll tax regime, according to a report by MPs.

    Difficulties meeting the IR35 rules, which apply to many IT contractors, in central government reflect poor implementation by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and other government bodies, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.

    "Central government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds to cover tax owed for individuals wrongly assessed as self-employed. Government departments and agencies owed, or expected to owe, HMRC £263 million in 2020–21 due to incorrect administration of the rules," the report said.

    Continue reading
  • Internet went offline in Pakistan as protestors marched for ousted prime minister
    Two hour outage 'consistent with an intentional disruption to service' said NetBlocks

    Internet interruption-watcher NetBlocks has reported internet outages across Pakistan on Wednesday, perhaps timed to coincide with large public protests over the ousting of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

    The watchdog organisation asserted that outages started after 5:00PM and lasted for about two hours. NetBlocks referred to them as “consistent with an intentional disruption to service.”

    Continue reading
  • Suspected phishing email crime boss cuffed in Nigeria
    Interpol, cops swoop with intel from cybersecurity bods

    Interpol and cops in Africa have arrested a Nigerian man suspected of running a multi-continent cybercrime ring that specialized in phishing emails targeting businesses.

    His alleged operation was responsible for so-called business email compromise (BEC), a mix of fraud and social engineering in which staff at targeted companies are hoodwinked into, for example, wiring funds to scammers or sending out sensitive information. This can be done by sending messages that impersonate executives or suppliers, with instructions on where to send payments or data, sometimes by breaking into an employee's work email account to do so.

    The 37-year-old's detention is part of a year-long, counter-BEC initiative code-named Operation Delilah that involved international law enforcement, and started with intelligence from cybersecurity companies Group-IB, Palo Alto Networks Unit 42, and Trend Micro.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022