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Non-secure Client Management
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Secure service call: request to a secure partition by a secure or non-secure client thread

Secure function call: any function call from NSPE to SPE

TrustZone (TZ) API: the set of functions defined by CMSIS for RTOS secure context management

Client ID: the identifier defining a single entity within the system, determining its access policies for any given secure assets

Assumptions, restrictions

This design considers as its baseline the current operation of TF-M: an operating mode where at any given time only a single non-secure access is permitted to call a secure service.
If a non-secure RTOS/bare-metal application does not use the API calls defined in this design, that non-secure application is still able to use secure services using a single, default non-secure client context. That remains a supported use case and use of this API is optional and is only needed if multiple access policies and/or concurrent secure contexts initiated by non-secure threads are required.
Investigation is ongoing to address the option of enabling multiple concurrent calls by non-secure threads without the use of the context management API below.


The topics being discussed in this document:

  • NS client/thread awareness in TF-M Core
  • “Known client” list

Improvements, alternatives, investigations

  • Concurrent secure service requests
  • NS to S priority inheritance
  • NS privilege to be derived from CONTROL_NS register

Design details

NS thread awareness in TF-M Core


TrustZone context management API defines a set of secure function calls from NS RTOS handler mode to TF-M Core to get notification of context switch.
While CMSIS context management can be used to directly expose secure context management to the non-secure OS, TF-M has a proprietary implementation: the context management API is used to get notification of NS context switches and to track various non-secure clients.

API definition

TZ_MemoryId_t data type

TZ Memory ID identifies an allocated memory slot.

TF-M usage

TZ_MemoryId_t is used for an index into an array containing active NS client IDs. The memory ID is required by CMSIS to be a positive integer, so it is mapped to the array index by being decremented by 1.


typedef uint32_t TZ_MemoryId_t;

Context management initialization: TZ_InitContextSystem_S

Initialize secure context memory system.

Return value

This function returns execution status: 1 for success, 0 for error.

TF-M usage

This function call is used to identify a non-secure RTOS that has TZ context management capabilities, as this function is expected to be called before any other TZ API function is used.


uint32_t TZ_InitContextSystem_S (void);

Context allocation: TZ_AllocModuleContext_S

Allocate context memory for calling secure software modules in TrustZone.


module [input]: identifies software modules called from non-secure mode

Return value

value != 0 TrustZone memory slot identifier
value == 0 no memory available or internal error

TF-M usage

This function is used to identify a new non-secure thread that may be identified as a client in the non-secure domain. The module parameter is unused. The returned TZ_MemoryId_t value is the index in the NsClientIdList array where the client ID for the newly allocated context is stored.


TZ_MemoryId_t TZ_AllocModuleContext_S (TZ_ModuleId_t module);

Context freeing: TZ_FreeModuleContext_S

Free context memory that was previously allocated with TZ_AllocModuleContext_S


id [input]: TrustZone memory slot identifier

Return value

Execution status (1: success, 0: error)

TF-M usage

This function indicates that a non-secure client is inactive, meaning that any subsequent references to the client ID are considered erroneous. In effect, the client ID indexed by (id – 1) is cleared and the memory slot flagged as free.


uint32_t TZ_FreeModuleContext_S (TZ_MemoryId_t id);

Context activation: TZ_LoadContext_S

Load secure context (called on RTOS thread context switch)


id [input]: TrustZone memory slot identifier

Return value

Execution status (1: success, 0: error)

TF-M usage

The client ID indexed by (id – 1) becomes the active NS client. Any subsequent secure service requests coming from non-secure domain will be associated with this client ID.


uint32_t TZ_LoadContext_S (TZ_MemoryId_t id);

Context deactivation: TZ_StoreContext_S

Store secure context (called on RTOS thread context switch)


id [input]: TrustZone memory slot identifier

Return value

Execution status (1: success, 0: error)

TF-M usage

The client ID indexed by (id – 1) becomes inactive. Any subsequent secure service requests coming from non-secure domain will be invalid until a new NS context is loaded.


uint32_t TZ_StoreContext_S (TZ_MemoryId_t id);

Security implications (to be assessed separately if needed)

If NS RTOS / NS handler mode is compromised, NS clients’ data can be disclosed to unauthorised non-secure actors, as it’s not in the scope of TF-M to guarantee non-secure client isolation. Support for this API is only an enabler for a non-secure RTOS feature.

Vulnerabilities of the NS handler mode cannot and will not lead to disclosure of assets owned by secure entities to non-secure actors after the introduction of this feature as a malicious NS handler can only ever assume the identity of another non-secure client and cannot elevate its access privileges to those of secure clients.

Known client list


A different – but related – API to that defined by CMSIS is proposed in this design to register a specific client ID to the active non-secure thread.

The purpose of this API is to provide non-secure privileged code with the ability to associate the active non-secure context with a pre-defined identity. This enables the application of a pre-set access policy on the secure side to be applied to the non-secure thread.

Use cases

It is valid for non-secure privileged code to only support the TF-M-specific API defined below and not the CMSIS TZ API defined previously. In this case the single non-secure client is still able to access resources based on a pre-defined access policy in secure services without relying on the default non-secure identity configured in TF-M.

If used in conjunction with the TZ API, this function can provide a means to assign and identify multiple non-secure client IDs based on the active context, overriding TF-M’s default non-secure client identity assignment policy.

API definition

NS RTOS client registration API – secure function calls from NS handler mode to TF-M Core to associate a “known” Client ID to the active non-secure thread.

Register specific client ID: tfm_register_client_id

Assign client ID to the current TZ context.

Note: This function must be called from handler mode so that TF-M can verify that it was sent by a privileged entity.

This function call must follow all TZ_AllocModuleContext_S function calls to override the default NS client IDs allocated by TF-M.

Secure and non-secure client IDs are allocated from different ranges (negative IDs for non-secure clients, positive for secure clients). The function call is rejected if called with a secure ID.


ns_client_id [input] The client ID to be assigned to the current context

Return value

TFM_SUCCESS (0) if the client ID assigned successfully, a non-zero error code in case of error.


enum tfm_status_e tfm_register_client_id (int32_t ns_client_id);

Implementation notes

Option to reduce required context switch notifications

According to TrustZone API definition TZ_StoreContext_S() is to be called "at thread context switch after running a thread" and TZ_LoadContext_S "at thread context switch before running a thread". The API definition does not define the course of action to be taken if two TZ_LoadContext_S() calls are made without an interleaving StoreContext.
The proposal for TF-M is to accept this as a valid scenario where the second TZ_LoadContext_S() call is taken to imply a TZ_StoreContext_S() with the previous active Memory_Id.
This assumption does not alter the intended use of TZ_StoreContext_S(), which remains a valid call with the behaviour as defined in the API definition section above.

Investigations, improvements, alternatives

Concurrent secure service requests

If there are concurrent services requests, TF-M needs to identify the client for each request and should make their corresponding context available in the secure domain. Client ID needs to be associated with the secure service request so that a NS context switch does not break client identification.

If a non-secure client is blocked on an asynchronous secure service completion, the NS TFM library must provide a semaphore the NS thread can wait on, whereby NS RTOS can schedule a different context.

Should a secure service completion happen for an inactive NS context, a notification mechanism needs to be created to activate the given NS context.

The proposal is for the NS TFM library to include a NS IRQ handler for a reserved interrupt signal. The ISR would identify the context to be activated and release the corresponding semaphore.

NS to S priority inheritance

Whether or not NS thread priorities should be influencing secure service prioritization needs to be analysed. It is raised as a topic of discussion and is not detailed in this document further at this stage.

NS privilege check for secure function calls

Non-secure privilege can be derived from CONTROL_NS instead of requiring NS to call context management veneers in handler mode. This can be a more generic approach, but implications are to be investigated.


Description of the TZ API:

Last Author
Last Edited
Feb 21 2019, 10:42 AM

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