Common Criteria EAL6+ certification for soft processor IP (1)

Common Criteria EAL6+ certification for soft processor IP (1)

Eurosmart welcomes certification of processor cores using a subset of the requirements of Protection Profile (PP) PP-0084. This helps solidify the status of Common Criteria and especially the SOG-IS members as the go-to-centre for high assurance certification in the world. With referencing PP-0084, it shows the critical importance of this Eurosmart initiative as a key standard for security requirements for high-security ICs.

PP-0084 refers to a complete Secure IC concept and includes the assumptions on its environment and threats. However, it should be noted that in recent certification of processor IP (2) the scope of certification covers a subset of the PP-0084, and (3) considers a subset of the applicable attacks.

Eurosmart promotes high-level certifications by SOG-IS, as SOG-IS mandates security evaluations based on concrete penetration testing on real devices, conducted by skilled security experts. This concrete testing on real devices by skilled experts must be the key approach for any company using soft processor IP in their high-security ICs. All associated threats and testing must be performed including the tests not included in the soft processor IP certifications, this is important to ensure that PP-0084 Common Criteria certifications remain atthe state of the art for High Security ICs.

Certification on Hardware Description Language

The processor IP was certified as a soft macro, that is the certification was performed on Verilog Hardware Description Language (HDL). This approach allows companies that wish to use the cores in a certification of their product to re-use some of the evaluation results from the existing certification. This would in theory allow companies using the cores to have a quicker certification. However, it should be noted that the guidance and limitations of the certification would have to be stringently followed. This approach has been welcomed by Eurosmart and its members. The idea of using certified IP blocks has also been discussed in the Eurosmart group ISCI.

However, a direct re-use of certified soft processor IP is based on defining and using a common threat landscape. The AVA_VAN.5 level on PP-0084 includes physical attacks as threats. In soft processor IP certification, physical attacks are not considered. ‘‘Due to the form of the certification scope (Verilog), only a limited amount of attacks is directly applicable and countered by the TOE. For example, physical attacks are not countered by this TOE’.  (3)

So, the assurance claim of this Security Target does not include all assurance components of PP-0084. Penetrations tests must cover the whole attack classes in the JHAS attack method in order to reach the AVA_VAN.5 level.

Eurosmart members suggest considering the writing of a dedicated Protection Profile based on a VHDL Core description (or any other IP) with related threat definition along with guidance documents for integrators that can be used then verified during the final Product certification.

Possible misinterpretation of the certification results

Eurosmart has though one major area of concern. The pre-certification of the soft processor IP might create the impression that including such a core automatically fulfils the certification requirements of governmental and trade bodies. However, in most cases, such requirements include both conformance to an EAL and conformance to a specific Protection Profile. None of these requirements are provided with an IP only certification.

Therefore, special care must be taken in the way that this certification is marketed. End-users must not be under the illusion that if they use the certified core that they automatically have an EAL6+ AVA_VAN.5 certified product. To simply take a soft processor IP and design it into the secure IC product, and believe that all testing associated with AVA_VAN.5 and the requirements of the JIL/JHAS document “Application of Attack Potential to Smartcards” are covered, can lead to false security and will leave end-users exposed to attacks that they falsely perceive to be protected against. This is very critical for both invasive attacks, including glitching and side-channel, and non-invasive attacks. These attacks and the functionality of the final product cannot be gauged by HDL based simulation alone. This would leave the IC developer open to liability issues if the product was compromised, especially if they have made security claims for their product.

In summary

Eurosmart welcomes all contributions to the ideas and innovation of security certification. The Eurosmart members believe that third-party verification of security claims is fundamental to build a secure connected society, and welcome the certification of soft processor IP contribution to this goal. This certification must though be used correctly, and end-users must be fully aware of its limitations and their requirements to implement security in their final secure IC products. It is a necessary condition if they want their final ICs to be PP-0084 Common Criteria certified.


A soft processor intellectual property (IP) is a processor described in hardware description language such as Verilog or VHDL.

To make a Hardware (HW) product, soft IPs have to be synthetized to provide a gate level netlist which will then be mapped to specific process technology.

As Soft IPs are customized in HW product’s development flow, physical characteristics in the HW end-product depend on the methodology and process used.


Common Criteria Certificate: CC-20-202003:

Common Criteria Certificate: CC-20-201210: