Beyond Broadband Technology / The BBTSolution™
A "WHITE PAPER" ON A NEW CONCEPT FOR SECURING THE TRANSMISSION OF ELECTRONIC INFORMATION
Beyond Broadband Technology, LLC, (BBT™) has developed The BBTSolution™, an open specification downloadable security system which does not require the use of a "trusted authority". The BBTSolution™ constitutes a unique method of establishing a secure communications path with either one-way or two-way devices as well as mechanisms for establishing authentication, authorization and reception of encrypted transmissions of voice, video or other data. Explaining a new concept in the field of information security is never easy. That's particularly the case since various users, purveyors, government regulators and even standards-setting bodies use either very similar or very conflicting definitions for similar terms. This "White Paper" is meant to make clear what we are referring to with the terms being used to explain the BBTSolution™, and thereby help to underscore the unique flexibility it can bring to multiple forms of information security.
This is a very broad term, and in the context of the BBTSolution™, it is meant that way. The BBTSolution™ establishes a highly secure communications path between a transmitting device and a receiving device. The transmission medium is not restricted. As is explained below, the BBTSolution™ was first designed for use with cable television broadband systems. However, it is not restricted to any particular communications path, and will also work on IP (Internet Protocol) systems or over-the-air, satellite or other transmission paths just as well. Once a secure, authorized and authenticated communications path is established, the system is totally agnostic to the type of data, content or information transmitted over that path. Thus when we talk about "information security," it could be anything from a television program or channel, or first-run movie to health care or banking information, automated data for controlling the power grid, or any other type of information.
Once the secure communications path is initiated, the level of security, including authentication, content usage restrictions and encryption, or any other type of security is user-definable. What makes this approach unique is that because it is "downloadable," security conditions can be changed repeatedly, depending on the use. In other words it can be employed by multiple transmitters of information, each utilizing different types and levels of security. A consumer with a BBTSolution™ enabled computer (either built-in or in a portable USB "dongle") for instance, could securely access multiple video programmers via the Internet, each with it's own encryption and conditional access protocols. A Veteran could have similar access to all his or her medical records at multiple locations with total security provided by a BBTSolution™ chip in a USB thumb-drive type device, a biometric enabled smartphone, or embedded in medical facility computers.
The BBTSolution™ has two parts; a secure microchip in the receiving device, and an "HSM" (Hardware Security Module) at the transmitting site. The HSM can be integrated into the transmitting location of a cable broadband, satellite, broadcast or telephone system, or it could be a part of any computer server used by a provider of information. HSM's could also be integrated into devices (such as a host server) used by doctors or hospitals to transmit patient data or any other data transmission application. The cost of the HSM enabled equipment will vary depending on the use. The current design for cable television systems, including the computer, costs less than $10,000, approximately one-tenth the price of the conditional access headend controllers commonly used in that market today. We anticipate that the basic Hardware Security Module enabled for use on computer servers can cost half that, or even less.
The secure microchip can be incorporated into, as examples, a cable television set-top box, a television set, a digital video recorder, a home, office or laptop computer, or even in a portable USB device (much like a "thumb drive" or "dongle") that could be inserted in any current computer USB or HDMI port. The chips, which are already being manufactured non-exclusively by one of the best-known secure microprocessor manufacturers in the world, ST-Microelectronics, are inexpensive (they are currently priced at $5.00 including the BBT license fee) and are designed to be integrated into multiple consumer devices, much like the well-known "Dolby™" system is included in most consumer audio devices today.
BOTH TWO-WAY AND ONE-WAY DEVICES
One of the many unique aspects of the BBTSolution™ is that the receiving device, such as a television set, need not be a "two-way" device. The secure communications path, once established, is totally managed by the transmitting and receiving devices themselves, and the receiving device does not have to be in constant return-path communication with the transmitting HSM enabled equipment. Thus, for instance, with one telephone call a cable television consumer could read a series of numbers that appeared on their television screen to the headend and from that point on the cable HSM enabled headend controller and the consumer's BBTSolution™ device can establish and maintain a secure authenticated channel (SAC) without the need for two-way communication or bandwidth use. Of course the system will also work, automatically, with two-way communications, such as with IP computer communications on the Internet in host and "cloud computing" applications, and in any two-way broadband system.
THE ORIGINAL CHALLENGE - CABLE TELEVISION
The BBTSolution™ was originally designed to respond to a need for a new, low-cost cable television set-top box that could meet government mandates for "separable security" for such devices. Until June of 2007, cable television systems traditionally used a set-top box (a tuner, and descrambler) that had "integrated security". That is, the entire process of assuring that the box belonged to the right customer, was in the right location, and had the proper codes to decrypt only that programming meant for that customer was all integrated into the set-top box. Legislation intended to foster a consumer market for set-top boxes resulted in the FCC establishing rules requiring that the security function be separated from the rest of the functions of the set-top box. This, theoretically, would allow anyone to design new and competitive set-top boxes that could be used in any cable system since the security function was not integrated into the box and could be enabled in each location (which had different security, or "conditional access" systems) another way.
The method originally chosen for this separated function was the CableCARD, a modified version of the PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) card then in use in personal computers. The idea was that any set-top box could be built with a capability to accept the CableCARD, and that cable systems could supply the appropriate card, which controlled the security, or what has generally been called the "conditional access" components of the system. Unfortunately, CableCARDs are both expensive (both the card and the docking device) and no longer constitute an advanced technology. The PCMCIA design is generally now considered obsolete, and most computers today no longer incorporate PCMCIA slots, having progressed to new designs such as USB (Universal Serial Bus) and HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface). The BBTSolution™ is "backward compatible" with CableCARDS.
One of the original objectives of BBT was to design a new "separable security" system. Several efforts to design such a new system were launched by various companies. Unfortunately, the layman's language used to describe these systems, which was subsequently adopted by the FCC, was "downloadable conditional access systems" or DCAS. We say unfortunate, because this language necessarily confuses the various functions being described, and implies that they are all part of a single, integrated process. While that is a traditional approach to security and conditional access, it is not the only way it can be accomplished. Another of the unique attributes of the BBTSolution™ is that it separates the establishment of a secure communications path, the transmission, from the other functions of authorization, and encryption /decryption of the content or data. This allows, as is explained below, almost unlimited flexibility in the use of the system.
A SECURE COMMUNICATIONS PATH -- WITHOUT THE NEED FOR A "TRUSTED AUTHORITY"
The traditional approach to establishing a secure communications path is to use a "public/private encryption key" dialog between devices. However this standard approach also requires that the "private key" be in some way secured and archived for referral and use to authorize the communication. Thus, there must be a "trusted authority" holding and controlling all of the private keys. If those keys are somehow discovered, the entire security system, including all the devices with hardware linked to those keys, if any, are compromised. The BBTSolution™ does not employ public/private keys or require a "trusted authority," thus eliminating the two most significant vulnerabilities of the traditional approach.
With the BBTSolution™, the "public/private" keys that enable devices to securely communicate are replaced by a "symmetrical key" approach. Keys are determined on an ad hoc basis, internally, by the HSM and the secure microchip embedded in the receiving device. Each time the HSM and a receiving device establish a new secure communications link, new random, spontaneously created keys are used, thus there is no need for a "trusted authority" and the risk factor of "hacked," stolen or divulged keys is eliminated. No user needs to rely on any other entity for the maintenance of security of the devices used in its communications. This, in turn, significantly reduces the threat target for secure communications. Since each user of the BBTSolution™ establishes their own conditions for authentication and use, the two parts of the security protocol; establishing the secure communications path and then establishing the authentication, content encryption, access and use conditions, become additive in their security effect, particularly since they are not static.
DOWNLOADABLE CONDITIONAL ACCESS
The basic BBTSolution™ initiation of a secure communications path does not include traditional "conditional access" protocols. The entire idea behind the early development of this approach, as noted above, was to separate the establishment of the secure communications path from the conditions imposed on the use of data after that communications path was created. Thus the BBTSolution™ has been designed in an "open" format where specifications will be made available so that anyone can design "conditional access" software that can be downloaded to the receiving BBTSolution™-enabled device. This conditional access software can be as simple or as robust as the user chooses. For instance, in the case of a cable television system operator, the conditional access system might be automatically triggered by a known subscriber code number, pin number, or location address. In the case of a portable USB "stick", which could be inserted in any modern computer at any location, a program supplier (ESPN or a movie supplier, as examples) could, once the secure communications path is established, download a customized "conditional access" protocol that required a password, a credit card verification, or some other method of authentication. The initiation of the secure communication path can also include additional authentication requirements, adding to the security flexibility. The relationship between the transmission security provider and the content user over the Internet would be direct, and totally controlled by the conditions imposed by the intellectual property owner. In the case of medical records, it has already been suggested that the USB key or an embedded secure micro at the medical facility or in a smartphone could be conditioned to be biometrically authorized, for instance only with thumb print verification, as well as a password to assure security and privacy of personal data. Once the BBTSolution™ secure communications path is established, and authentication has taken place, the conditional access protocol of the given information provider is downloaded. At that point the information distributor can additionally impose any other conditions for the access of the material being sent. Of course at minimum, that content is encrypted.
Creation of the unique, secure transmission keys for that content are an integral part of the The BBTSolution™. That uniqueness is assured because the secure micro includes a "virtual machine" or "tool box" that contains over a dozen security encryption algorithms. In the BBTSolution™ approach they are even more so because they can be used in combination, in any order or multiple process, not just singularly, again at the discretion of the transmission provider. This could be true of each new communication. Thus even if the algorithms selected are in some way "broken," that complex process of decoding the algorithm would have to be done repeatedly. A single "breach" would only yield the content (itself also encrypted) of a single communication path. One can never assume that something simply can never be "broken," therefore the system is designed so that the protocol can be changed at will by the provider, as many times as they wish, and as often as they choose. It is generally acknowledged that a "software-only" (DRM--"digital rights management") approach to encryption or conditional access is subject to constant challenge.
The BBTSolution™ HSM and microchip, along with a downloadable conditional access component, does not suffer from that same level of risk. It is a highly adaptable, nimble and very flexible approach to secure communications. Along with establishing secure transmission and conditional access, including any form of additional "DRM" chosen by the information provider, the ability to download protocols allows for other flexibility as well. For instance information stored in different formats may require that a "reader" be associated with the information being transmitted. This is particularly true in a field such as health care. Reader programs, with limitations on use, both in terms of time and content, could be downloaded and deleted with each session establishing a secure communications path. Data downloaded to a computer hard drive could be stored only in encrypted form, thus totally protected unless a secure communications path was established to enable decryption.
SECURE BROADBAND COMMUNICATIONS - A REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE: ELECTRONIC MEDICAL RECORDS
There are several interrelated issues in the effort to shift to electronic medical records. Not only is individual security and privacy required, but the records themselves, as in the case with the Veterans Administration, for example, may be in different locations and they may not all be uniform. The use of the BBTSolution™ downloadable security design can address all of those challenges.
In order to assure privacy and authentication, a BBTSolution™ secure microchip can be embedded in a personal "USB Dongle" (a form-factor like a "thumb drive") which also incorporates a biometric (thumb print) reader. Newly announced smartphones have started incorporating biometric readers. They could be used, as well. The veteran could visit any facility with computers having USB inputs and authenticate his or her right to access the particular medical records by establishing a secure communications path with any repository medical computer having the requisite HSM (Hardware Security Module). The encrypted thumb print data is stored directly on the resident secure microchip. The USB device will not establish any secure communication without that initial authentication. Any additional authentication required, such as a password, an account number or whatever the institution requires with its own pre-established set of conditional access rules, which would be downloaded to the receiving computer upon initiation of the secure communications path, would assure that the encrypted records were only being transmitted to the appropriate location and that only that location had the requisite information to decrypt the files. That decryption capability would, in this example, only last as long as the secure communications path was in place.
The process could also anticipate the interim "downloading" of specialized software should the sending and receiving medical facility not have the same capabilities for reading or reviewing the records. It, too, would only be useable so long as the secure communication path was intact, or limited in any other way decided upon.
Of course any other set of variables could be applied to the medical data thus downloaded. It could be time limited and then automatically discarded, it could be decrypted or left entirely encrypted and only accessible during secure communications path sessions with the personalized USB key, or it could be authorized for use by the new medical facility as a repository for the data. All of these options and many more can be made available through the use of easily developed and downloaded computer code. The key to the secure communication of the data is the initialization of the secure communications path, and the multiple options afforded the user through downloadable capability once that path is established.
While we have cited a USB thumb-drive type form factor (currently tested and ready for mass production) in this quick exploration of how the BBTSolution™ can be used to address many of the challenges of electronic health care records security and distribution, there are other form factors that could also be employed, such as a "smart card," or the BBT secure microchip being directly incorporated into a computer laptop or other chip design. In addition, it should be noted, again, that because of the flexibility inherent in the downloadable design, the same chip (in whatever form factor) used for securing electronic medical records, for instance, could also be used to view a movie, download a book, or do anything else requiring an authenticated secure communications path to multiple devices such as computers, laptops, television sets, game consoles, etc.
The whole point behind this newly patented approach to broadband IP security is that it can be used for multiple purposes and each one can be secured in a different way with as much or as little additional conditional access as is deemed necessary by the parties establishing the communications path. Each communications session is unique as to use, content, authentication and any other conditions chosen based on the nature and need of the communicating parties. Because of that flexibility and versatility, the BBTSolution™ security protocol enables far more uses in a more secure manner than current designs.
The BBTSolution™ is unique. It allows for secure communication and control of intellectual property and privacy of data transmissions on multiple broadband and narrowband formats. It can enable such communication to devices that are either one-way or two-way capable. It does not require a "trusted authority" and allows for maximum flexibility for individualized conditional access and use. It's potential uses for broadband and the Internet , in particular, can fundamentally change the way those platforms are used today.
Recent events have highlighted the validity of the reasoning behind the highly flexible BBTSolution™ approach to electronic information and communications security. The reported breaking of various stand-alone encryption algorithms and the accessing of confidential data from "cloud" servers along with the increased focus on illegal international efforts to access proprietary data from various secure repositories of corporate information has once again demonstrated the weakness in current security thinking. Software solutions, "secure repositories" or "trusted authorities" are being challenged regularly and there is no indication that this activity will stop.
The BBTSolution™ answer to that challenge is a design where any attack on the system is anticipated, repairable, and totally limited. There is no "trusted authority". The threat target in the BBT approach can be reduced, literally, to single communications events. Each initiation of the BBTSolution™ secure communications path can trigger a totally unique and individualized creation of ephemeral keys. Further, since each session initiation and associated conditional access protocol download is totally controlled (as to timing, duration, content, encryption, etc.,) by the secure transmission provider, any or all parameters can be changed at will. An illegal "hacker" would essentially have to, while the communications session was in progress, ascertain all of those variables, including the methodology and algorithm or combination of algorithms used for deriving the unique session keys.
Rather than try to create a "Fort Knox" that "can't be broken into," BBT has taken a totally different approach, creating a security design that is so nimble and flexible that the extreme effort it would take to compromise the secure communications path could only yield a result, if successful at all, for that single, unique communication. In addition, all system administrators create their own set of authentication variables, content encryption and additional conditional access protocols, adding to the overall security for the vast majority of uses.
Contact: Steve Effros
Beyond Broadband Technology / BBT