Identity & Security

Mitigating risk in the hardware supply chain

At Google, security is among our primary design criteria as we build hardware, software, and services. We think comprehensively about potential risks, no matter how small, and the best ways to mitigate them and stay ahead of attackers.

We take a “defense in depth” approach to security, which means that we don’t rely on any one thing to keep us secure, but instead build layers of checks and controls. Even if an attacker were to circumvent one of our safeguards, they would be met with many more carefully designed protections to keep them out.

One area where we've put a lot of thought, and which we continue to focus on, is the security of our hardware supply chain. Today, I’d like to go into a few of the things we do specifically in this area.

Hardware design and provenance

A Google data center consists of thousands of servers connected to a local network. In most cases, both the server boards and the networking equipment are custom-designed by Google. We vet component vendors and choose components with care, working with vendors to audit and validate the security properties provided by the components. We also design custom chips, such as the Titan hardware security chip that we’re rolling out on both servers and peripherals, which help us securely identify and authenticate legitimate Google devices at the hardware level.

Hardware tracking and disposal

Google meticulously tracks the location and status of all equipment within our data centers—from acquisition to installation to retirement to destruction—via barcodes and asset tags. Metal detectors and video surveillance are implemented to help make sure no equipment leaves the data center floor without authorization. If a component fails to pass a performance test at any point during its lifecycle, it is removed from inventory and retired.

When a hard drive is retired, authorized individuals verify that the disk is erased by writing zeros to the drive and performing a multiple-step verification process to ensure the drive contains no data. If the drive cannot be erased for any reason, it is stored securely until it can be physically destroyed. Depending on available equipment, we either crush and deform the drive or shred the drive into small pieces. Each data center adheres to a strict disposal policy and any variances are promptly addressed.

Secure boot stack and machine identity

Google servers use a variety of technologies to ensure that they are booting the correct software stack. We use cryptographic signatures over low-level components like the BIOS, bootloader, kernel, and base operating system image. These signatures can be validated during each boot or update. The components are Google-controlled, built, and hardened. With each new generation of hardware we strive to continually improve security: for example, depending on the generation and type of server, we root the trust of the boot chain in either a lockable firmware chip, a microcontroller running Google-written security code, or the above mentioned Google-designed security chip.

Each server in the data center has its own specific identity that can be tied to the hardware root of trust and the software with which the machine booted. This identity is used to authenticate API calls to and from low-level management services on the machine.

Google has developed automated systems which ensure servers run up-to-date versions of their software stacks (including security patches), detect and diagnose hardware and software problems, and remove machines from service if necessary.

Defense-in-depth

As mentioned, while these are examples of protections designed to address specific attack vectors in a potential supply chain attack, they are by no means the only defense. Google’s infrastructure and Google Cloud have been designed with a defense-in-depth approach so that we have opportunities to mitigate potential vulnerabilities at other layers of our stack. For example, even if a piece of server hardware were compromised, our network infrastructure is designed to be able to detect and automatically prevent the command-and-control communications that are often necessary to take advantage of compromised hardware. Similarly, by encrypting and authenticating network traffic we are able to prevent a compromised network device from accessing sensitive data.

Google will continue to invest in our platform to allow you to benefit from our services in a secure and transparent manner. To learn more about our approach to infrastructure security, visit our Infrastructure Security page, and download our Infrastructure Security whitepaper.