OpenSparc -- the open source chip (except for the crypto parts)

zooko zooko at
Thu May 1 12:38:34 EDT 2008

On Apr 24, 2008, at 7:58 PM, Jacob Appelbaum wrote:

> If we could convince (this is the hard part) companies to publish what
> they think their chips should look like, we'd have a starting point.

I would think that it also helps if a company publishes the source  
code and complete verification tools for their chips, such as Sun has  
done with the Ultrasparc T2 under the GPL.

I was excited about this, and also about the fact that the T2 came  
with extremely efficient crypto implementations, until I read this  
bizarre comment in the news:

"When the UltraSPARC T2 specifications are released Tuesday, Mehta  
said the company plans on releasing most of the source code,  
including the designs for the logic gate circuitry and the test  
suites. The one part of the source code that Sun can not release are  
the algorithms approved by the National Security Agency as part of  
the chip's cryptographic accelerations units." 

I investigated and sure enough the crypto parts of the T2 have all  
been stubbed out of the source (all of them, not just "algorithms  
approved by the NSA", whatever that means).

I sent e-mails inquiring about this to two journalists (the author of  
that article -- Scott Ferguson -- and noted cryptosecuritylibertarian  
gadfly Declan McCullagh) and three Sun employees, including Shrenik  
Mehta (quoted above), the "open sparc community support" e-mail  
address, and the Sun "open source ombudsman", Simon Phipps.  None of  
them ever wrote back.

This experience rather dampened my enthusiasm about relying on T2  
hardware as a higher-assurance, but still pretty commodified, crypto  



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