Security-first architecture: deploying physically isolated active security processors for safeguarding the future of computing

Dan Meng, Rui Hou, Gang Shi, Bibo Tu, Aimin Yu, Ziyuan Zhu, Xiaoqi Jia, Peng Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


It is fundamentally challenging to build a secure system atop the current computer architecture. The complexity in software, hardware and ASIC manufacture has reached beyond the capability of existing verification methodologies. Without whole-system verification, current systems have no proven security. It is observed that current systems are exposed to a variety of attacks due to the existence of a large number of exploitable security vulnerabilities. Some vulnerabilities are difficult to remove without significant performance impact because performance and security can be conflicting with each other. Even worse, attacks are constantly evolving, and sophisticated attacks are now capable of systematically exploiting multiple vulnerabilities while remain hidden from detection. Eagering to achieve security hardening of current computer architecture, existing defenses are mostly ad hoc and passive in nature. They are normally developed in responding to specific attacks spontaneously after specific vulnerabilities were discovered. As a result, they are not yet systematic in protecting systems from existing attacks and likely defenseless in front of zero-day attacks. To confront the aforementioned challenges, this paper proposes Security-first Architecture, a concept which enforces systematic and active defenses using Active Security Processors. In systems built based on this concept, traditional processors (i.e., Computation Processors) are monitored and protected by Active Security Processors. The two types of processors execute on their own physically-isolated resources, including memory, disks, network and I/O devices. The Active Security Processors are provided with dedicated channels to access all the resources of the Computation Processors but not vice versa. This allows the Active Security Processors to actively detect and tackle malicious activities in the Computation Processors with minimum performance degradation while protecting themselves from the attacks launched from the Computation Processors thanks to the resource isolation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Information Systems
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Artificial Intelligence


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