Are there any Open-Source Hardware Security Modules (meeting OSHWA requirements)?

I've worked with Utimaco HSMs, but I'm not a big fan of closed-source hardware -- especially when it comes to security but also out of principle.

Moreover, I was shocked that Utimaco didn't ship with any anti-interdiction services. I can't place much trust in a black box that was mailed to me without anti-interdiction services and no way to verify the integrity of the hardware.

Are there any Open-Source, Programmable Hardware Security Modules available on the market?

  • What services do you need from the HSM? Certificate signing? – DurandA Mar 24 at 15:57
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    I am aware of the the Nitrokey NetHSM which is supposed to be open hardware. However I did not find the hardware files. – DurandA Mar 24 at 16:05
  • For the purposes of this question, I'd like to know about any open-source HSM. But I'm especially interested in HSMs that are programmable. – Michael Altfield Mar 24 at 20:49
  • Nitrokey's HSM Factsheet specifically says (on the last page, in small font) "Nitrokey HSM is based on SmartCard-HSM and therefore contains proprietary components of other vendors." nitrokey.com/files/doc/Nitrokey_HSM_factsheet.pdf – Michael Altfield Mar 24 at 21:13
  • It looks like this is the SmartCard-HSM project on which NitroKey's hardware is based, which itself claims to be Open Source. It's not clear from their website if/what in their project is closed-source smartcard-hsm.com/opensource.html – Michael Altfield Mar 24 at 21:21

I am not aware of any. Developing an HSM is a lot of work, especially if you are complying with FIPS level 3 / 4 physical tampering and side-channel resistance. I could imagine a world where a group of tech giants get fed up with specialty HSM vendors and decide to come together to develop an open hardware standard and jointly invest the money and time to get it certified, but I don't think that's the world we're in today.


You will not find any. Developing secure microprocessors is very expensive, and I doubt anyone would expend a truckload of money (literally) and open source it afterwards.

Even if you don't develop your own microprocessor, you will have to license one, and that will come with a NDA, because the company licensing you one will not want you to disclose the innards of their processor. You could risk a hefty fee if you disclosed it.

I can't place much trust in a black box that was mailed to me without anti-interdiction services and no way to verify the integrity of the hardware.

You are not putting your trust on a random blackbox that arrived by mail. If that blackbox comes with a FIPS certification, you are putting your trust on the certification.

It's like your bank: you have your money there, and you are trusting a black box full of smaller black boxes that will take your money and say they will take care of it. But if the bank has a certification from the government, you can trust the certification, and the bank earned it by proving to someone that they can indeed keep your money safe.

Likewise, the certification guarantees that, as far as FIPS can tell, that blackbox withstands all sorts of attacks without leaking the private key, and that's enough for me.

  • You totally sidestepped the risk of interdiction. Certifications mean nothing if the device that arrived by post has been modified in-transit. – Michael Altfield Mar 24 at 22:44
  • A device FIPS-certified will arrive with tamper-evident packaging and health checking routines, so "modified in transit" will be evident on arrival. Source: I work for a company that makes HSMs, and have personally installed a couple of them. – ThoriumBR Mar 24 at 23:15
  • Not sure if anti-interdiction is part of the certs, but I was very disappointed by Utimaco. I wouldn't consider tamper-evident packaging sufficient if the whole tamper-evident bag can be taken off and replaced by another tamper-evident bag. That's not what I would call anti-interdiction services. I think Purism does it right puri.sm/security – Michael Altfield Mar 24 at 23:22
  • It depends on how much it costs. My company sells them for quite a lot, so we are the mail. There are several tamper-evident seals on the parts, and we have to check them all before opening. – ThoriumBR Mar 24 at 23:30
  • Tamper evident packaging, tamper evident seals on the appliance, and the external erase button. And we've had people come to the office to pick up the equipment rather than risk it being intercepted in shipping. If you don't trust the process, ask for a different one. – rip... Mar 25 at 3:49

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