ARM TrustZone and the Trusted Execution Environment

In this tutorial, we start to look at the practicalities of using the Trustonic Trusted Execution Environment with Samsung ARTIK. 

ARM® TrustZone® 

ARM TrustZone technology is a System on Chip (SoC) and CPU, system-wide approach to security. TrustZone is hardware-based security built into the SoCs. The family of TrustZone technologies can be integrated into any ARM Cortex-A and the latest Cortex-M23 and Cortex-M33 based systems.

At the heart of the TrustZone approach is the concept of secure and non-secure worlds that are separated in the hardware. Non-secure software is blocked from accessing secure resources directly. By creating a security subsystem, assets can be protected from software and common hardware attacks. The diagram below illustrates the high-level architecture of TrustZone technology.

Trustzone architecture

Trusted Execution Environment (TEE)

TrustZone technology within Cortex-A based application processors is commonly used to run a trusted boot and OS to create a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE). Applications that run in the secure world are called Trusted Applications (TA).

The TEE offers the security properties of confidentiality and integrity to multiple Trusted Applications. Many TEE providers follow GlobalPlatform’s API standard to enable their TEE to deliver a common security capability across platforms and markets.

Trustonic TEE

For the Samsung ARTIK® 5/7/10 families, we work with industry-leading TEE provider Trustonic, and incorporate the Trustonic Trusted Execution Environment platform in our ARTIK modules.

The Trustonic TEE is a portable and open TEE aiming at executing Trusted Applications on a device. It includes built-in cryptographic algorithms and secure objects for secure data persistence.

The TEE uses the ARM TrustZone to separate the platform into two distinct areas: the Normal World with a conventional rich OS and rich applications, and the Secure World.

trustonic trusted execution environment


The Secure World contains the TEE core operating system and trusted applications. It uses an on-device client/server architecture to provide security functionalities to the Normal World. The Normal World primarily contains software that is not security-sensitive. That software can call the Secure-World to get security functionality via the communication mechanisms and APIs provided by the TEE. The caller in the Normal World is usually an application, also called a Client Application.

Client Application (CA)

A Client Application uses the Trusted Application Connector (TAC) to communicate with a Trusted Application. The TAC establishes a connection with the Trusted Application and exchanges data with it to make the Trusted Application’s security features accessible to the Normal World.

The communication between the Normal world and the Secure World is implemented by writing data to a shared memory buffer. This memory is configured so that both worlds have access to the shared section, each with their own execution context.

Trustonic SDK

The Trustonic SDK includes two sets of APIs. One set is the Trustonic Legacy API. The other set conforms to the standard defined by GlobalPlatform. More information about GlobalPlatform APIs and how to use these APIs, can be found at:

TEE Client API

The TEE Client Application is responsible for:

  • Initiating a context to the TEE 

  • Opening and closing sessions to one or more Trusted Applications 

  • Registering and unregistering shared memory 

  • Invoking commands on sessions, and passing command data and memory buffers to a Trusted 

  • Handling Trusted Application return codes and data, returned either directly or in memory.

When a Client Application sends a command to a Trusted Application, the command contains a command identifier and an operation payload. An operation includes parameters that can be used to exchange data from CA to TA and from TA and CA.

TEE Trusted Application API

A Trusted Application is command-oriented. Client applications access services by opening a session with the TA and sending messages using the session. When a Trusted Application receives a command, it parses the messages associated with the command, processes them, and sends a response back to the Client Application.

When a Client Application opens a session with a Trusted Application, the TEE creates a new process, loads the TA binary into it, and starts execution of this process. This process is then called an instance of that Trusted Application. Trusted Application processes are single-threaded and have their own address space separating them from all other processes.

Each Trusted Application must implement a few callback functions, collectively called the “TA interface”. These functions are the entry points called by the Trustonic TEE to create the instance, notify the instance that a new client is connecting, notify the instance when the client invokes a command, notify when a client is disconnecting, and notify before destroying the instance. These functions must be implemented in order to link the TA binary.

Here is an example of a trusted application interface:

TA Interface Operation



Trusted Application constructor. It is called once
and only once in the lifetime of the Trusted Application instance.


Function called whenever a client attempts
to connect to the Trusted Application instance to open a new session.


Function called whenever a client invokes a Trusted Application command.


Function called when the client closes a session
and disconnects from the Trusted Application instance.


Trusted Application destructor.

Here’s an example of how it could look.

TEE_Result TA_EXPORT TA_CreateEntryPoint(void)
 return TEE_SUCCESS;

 void TA_EXPORT TA_DestroyEntryPoint(void)

 TEE_Result TA_EXPORT TA_OpenSessionEntryPoint(
 uint32_t nParamTypes, INOUT TEE_Param pParams[4],
 OUT void** ppSessionContext)
 return TEE_SUCCESS;

 void TA_EXPORT TA_CloseSessionEntryPoint(INOUT void* pSessionContext)
/* ---------------------------------------------------
  * Main entry point to our TA
  * --------------------------------------------------- */
 TEE_Result TA_EXPORT TA_InvokeCommandEntryPoint(
  INOUT void* pSessionContext,
  uint32_t nCommandID,
  uint32_t nParamTypes,
  TEE_Param pParams[4])
  case CMD_SAMPLE_ROT13:
  pInput = pParams[0].memref.buffer;
  nInputSize = pParams[0].memref.size;
  pOutput = pParams[1].memref.buffer;
  nOutputSize = pParams[1].memref.size;

  rot13((char*)pInput, (char*)pOutput, nInputSize);
  return TEE_SUCCESS; 


Correspondingly, here is the Client operations interface:

Client Operation

Trusted Application Effect


Create a new process and call TA_CreateEntryPoint to initialize,     then invoke TA_OpenSessionEntryPoint


Unblock the process and call TA_InvokeCommandEntryPoint


Call TA_CloseSessionEntryPoint.

Here is an example of the corresponding Client Application that interacts with the Trusted Application above:

TEE_Operation sOperation;
TEEC_Result nError;
*session = (TEEC_Session *)malloc(sizeof(TEEC_Session));
nError = TEEC_OpenSession(context,
 *session, /* OUT session */
 &uuid, /* destination UUID */
 TEEC_LOGIN_PUBLIC, /* connectionMethod */
 NULL, /* connectionData */
 &sOperation, /* INOUT operation */
 NULL /* OUT returnOrigin, optional */
memset(&sOperation, 0, sizeof(TEEC_Operation));
sOperation.paramTypes = TEEC_PARAM_TYPES(
sOperation.params[0].tmpref.buffer = (void*)plainText;
sOperation.params[0].tmpref.size = plainTextLength;
sOperation.params[1].tmpref.buffer = pCipherText;
sOperation.params[1].tmpref.size = *nCipherTextLength;

if (nError != TEEC_SUCCESS) {
 LOG_E("[CASampleRot13] %s: TEEC_InvokeCommand failed (%08x), %d", __func__, nError, __LINE__);

return nError;
nError = TEEC_InvokeCommand(session,
 &sOperation, /* IN OUT operation */
 NULL /* OUT returnOrigin, optional */
*nCipherTextLength = sOperation.params[1].tmpref.size;

if (nError != TEEC_SUCCESS) {


TEE Internal API

The GlobalPlatform TEE Internal API specification defines data encryption/decryption APIs, arithmetic APIs, memory management APIs, etc. Developers can use these APIs to design security algorithms to protect their data.

Here is an example that uses GlobalPlatform TEE Internal APIs to sign the data we received from normal world.

TEE_Result nResult = TEE_SUCCESS;
 TEE_ObjectHandle priKey = TEE_HANDLE_NULL;
 TEE_ObjectHandle pubKey = TEE_HANDLE_NULL;
 TEE_OperationHandle op_sig = NULL;

/* Load public and private keys */
 /* Allocate a handle for a new cryptographic operation and set mode and algorithm type */
 nResult = TEE_AllocateOperation(&op_sig, 
 TEE_MODE_SIGN, bitlength);
 if (nResult != TEE_SUCCESS) {
 goto cleanup;

/* Program the key of an operation */
 nResult = TEE_SetOperationKey(op_sig, priKey);
 if (nResult != TEE_SUCCESS) {
 goto cleanup;

/*Sign a message digest within an asymmetric operation. Only hashed message can be signed */
 nResult = TEE_AsymmetricSignDigest(op_sig, NULL, 0, toSign, bytelength,
 signature, &signatureLen);
 if (nResult != TEE_SUCCESS) {
 goto cleanup;
 return nResult;

I hope you find this tutorial useful, and that it gives you a better understanding of the Trustonic Trusted Execution Environment, and its implementation for Samsung ARTIK. Stay tuned for the next tutorial in this series!