Arm Morello Program
Morello is a research program with the potential to radically change the way we design and program processors in the future to improve built-in security. Funded by the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Digital Security by Design (DSbD) program and led by Arm, Morello has a transformative goal to radically update the security foundations of the digital computing infrastructure that underpins the entire global economy. The main anticipated output of DSbD is a technology platform prototype, designed and produced by Arm: The Morello evaluation board.
Morello focuses on new ways of designing CPU architecture that can make processors more robust and deter certain key security breaches. As part of an additional 5-year research program funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Morello will be used to produce and test a prototype technology that, if successful, could be implemented in future hardware.
Arm and the University of Cambridge are collaborating in the development of its Capability Hardware Enhanced RISC Instructions (CHERI) architecture. Arm has developed a prototype architecture that adapts the hardware concepts of CHERI.
This new approach to cybersecurity requires extensive exploration work and involves a significant change in how the architecture of the hardware is designed and how software running on devices is programed to take advantage of the new features.
Using this new technology, Arm is designing a prototype system-on-chip (SoC) and a development board, called the Morello board. This will enable industry and academic partners to test the new prototype architecture in real-world use cases.
The Morello program started in October 2019, and will span a 5-year period. Arm is developing and producing a prototype board (Morello) which will be ready about halfway through the project (Q1 2022). The remainder of the project time will be available for testing and feedback by the industry ecosystem.
Morello News Spotlight
Morello Program One Year On: A Step Closer to Securing Our Digital Future
Latest developments in the program include 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.
A Safer Digital Future, By Design
The project brings Arm together with other global technology leaders, including Google and Microsoft, to collaborate in securing next-generation devices for businesses and the public—from IoT products to smartphones and autonomous vehicles.
This talk explores global technology challenges across sustainability, security, and society, attracting delegates from around the world for three days of innovative content.
Access the following resources for Morello, including architecture specifications, platform models, the Morello forum, technical guides and more:
Morello Prototype Architecture Specifications
The Morello architecture aims to improve the robustness and security of systems.
Work With Open Source Software for the Morello Platform
See the Linaro landing page for Morello platform open source software.
Morello Platform Model
Download the open access Fixed Virtual Platform (FVP) on developer.
Morello Technical Reference Manual (TRM)
Find out more about the Morello System Development Platform (SDP).
Morello Development Tools
Get specialized tools for software prototyping and architecture exploration.
Memory Model Tools Support for Morello
Access support for the Morello architecture on github.
- The hardware capability technology that is used in CHERI and in the Arm prototype architecture combines references to memory locations. These act as pointers, with limits on how the references can be used. These limits relate to the address ranges and functionality that the references can be used to access.
- This combined information, which is called a capability, is constructed so that it cannot be forged by software.
- Replacing pointers with capabilities in a program vastly improves memory safety, which is a key step for security. Recent research by Matt Miller of Microsoft has shown that ~70% of the vulnerabilities addressed through a security update each year continue to be memory safety issues.
- The benefit of hardware capability technology goes beyond memory safety. This is because the capabilities can be used as a building block for more fine-grained compartmentalization of software. Software that is constructed with fine-grained compartmentalization could result in inherently more robust software that is resistant to attack.
- A powerful feature of compartmentalization is that, even if one compartment is compromised by an attacker, the attacker cannot break out of the compartment to access any other information, or to take overall control of the computing system.
In addition to changes to hardware, this new approach to security will require re-architecting how code is created. Code will be written and compiled in a different way, to take advantage of the novel hardware features and to achieve a more secure result.
Prototype Morello Evaluation Board
By creating a prototype Morello evaluation board, Arm is committing to the extensive engineering and research that enables an industrial-scale trial of candidate technologies. This is the first trial of this scale in the UK.
The Morello prototype board will be available to appropriate software companies, tools developers, and leading academic institutions. Arm will publish its key findings widely to lead and enable industry change.
The Morello prototype board is subject to these terms and conditions.
Note: Morello technology is at an early stage of research and testing. Arm has no roadmap or plan to include Morello technology in any current or future Arm products or architectures.
Software Prototyping and Development Tools
The demonstrator Morello board provides a realistic, highly capable Arm-based platform for software developers. Developers can experiment and test the Morello board to investigate the best way to use fine-grained compartmentalization for improving security.
The capability approach to hardware will require a new programming methodology, to take advantage of new features, including compartmentalization, that are available in the hardware.
The world-class programming abilities of companies like Microsoft and Google are vital in building software that is genuinely more robust against security attacks, while retaining high performance.
Programmers can use the Morello prototype board to test approaches to the real, highly complex, software workloads that we see deployed in computing systems today.
An open source software platform allows multiple contributors to participate in this project. You can find out more about the development plans for models, toolchain, and software support on the open source software landing page for Morello.
Arm provides development tools to aid with software prototyping and architecture exploration, including functional model, instruction emulator, compilation toolchains, and debug tools. For more information visit the Development tools page.