OP-TEE TrustZone bypass on multiple NXP i.MX models

Product OP-TEE
CVE Reference CVE-2021-36133
Type Local Privilege Escalation

The Open Portable Trusted Execution Environment (OP-TEE) is an open source Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) implementing the Arm TrustZone technology.

F-Secure Foundry, in the process of developing its own TEE framework (GoTEE), reviewed the existing Open Source offering and identified a vulnerability in OP-TEE support for the Central Security Unit (CSU) configuration of several NXP i.MX System-on-Chip (SoC) part numbers (P/Ns).

Based on these findings F-Secure advises OP-TEE users to treat all OP-TEE supported platforms as insecure by default and carefully review their implementation before integration

TrustZone configuration on i.MX SoCs

F-Secure GoTEE tutorial provides an in-depth explanation of the various aspects of an effective TrustZone configuration.

In a nutshell, along with standardize ARM core configuration, each SoC requires its peripherals to be assigned to either the Secure World or Normal World (aka NonSecure World), which respectively represent the privileged and unprivileged TrustZone domains.

When granting Normal World access to a specific peripheral it is essential to flag such peripheral as NonSecure, as the permissions for accessing peripherals are different than their privilege level.

In other words if NonSecure World is granted access to a peripheral that can perform arbitrary memory read/write operations, it is vital to flag that peripheral as a NonSecure bus controller.

Failure to do so results in a TrustZone bypass as the NonSecure World can simply use the peripherals to read/write Secure World memory.

On the NXP i.MX family several peripherals can independently perform Direct Memory Access (DMA), the prime example is the Smart Direct Memory Access (SDMA) controller. Another example would be the Ethernet controller (FEC/ENET) as it can be configured with arbitrary memory pointers for the transmit/receive ring buffer location.

The Central Security Unit (CSU) is the component that enables TrustZone peripheral configuration, on the NXP i.MX family, for all peripherals that are not capable of asserting TrustZone signals independently.

The CSU Config Security Level (CSL) defines restrictions for accessing individual (or groups of) peripherals (e.g. whether a peripheral can be accessed from NonSecure World) while the Security Access (SA) defines their access security policy (e.g. whether a peripheral makes bus accesses as Secure or NonSecure).


The OPTEE-OS CSU driver sets a CSL which grants NonSecure access to most i.MX peripherals, with the exception of security sensitive ones such as the ROM patching controller (ROMCP) or the DCP cryptographic co-processor.

However the SA is never set for several i.MX6 variants as well as the i.MX7, causing the CSU default Secure World access privilege to be applied.

Additionally OP-TEE returns CSU initialization success on all SoC P/Ns which do not have an explicit configuration, a dangerous patterns which extends the vulnerability to the additional i.MX8 targets enabled on NXP own OP-TEE fork, as they do not have a specific CSU configuration.


On vanilla OPTEE-OS the NXP i.MX6 and its ULL/ULZ, SL/SLL, SX variants as well as all NXP i.MX7 variants there is no effective TrustZone isolation as the Normal World can arbitrarily read/write Secure World memory, resulting in a full compromise of the Trusted Execution Environment.

On NXP own OP-TEE fork, the same vulnerability applies but its scope is extended to the additional supported for the i.MX8 SoC family.

Vendor response 

On June 30th the OP-TEE projects communicated their assessment of the reported issue to a severity rating of "low", with the reasoning copied in verbatim below.

F-Secure believes that the OP-TEE should either provide an explicitly "open" configuration, with clear documentation notices, or working protection for Secure World assigned peripherals.

The official platform support for the findings in scope instead includes an inconsistent configuration which gives the illusion of protection (per OPTEE-OS CSU driver comments) without it being effective.

F-Secure advises OP-TEE users to treat all OP-TEE supported platforms as insecure by default and carefully review their implementation before integration.

The following quote is the verbatim response from the OP-TEE project:

"After further discussions and in agreement with NXP we've decided to downgrade this from a severity high to low (an informative issue), which means that it'll not be treated as a security vulnerability. The reasons are as stated by NXP below.

We have similar standpoints in the OP-TEE project where we for example have added a disclaimer to the Raspberry Pi section [1] and as another example we have a "porting guidelines" [2] where we mentioned that the HUK is stubbed and that the Trusted Application RSA keys are just example keys that needs to be replaced by the one intending to make a secure product. I.e., for open source projects working as reference builds there are in some cases configurations that are needed to make a final product secure, but cannot be enabled for various reasons in the reference build.

As mentioned by NXP, they will submit a documentation patch to the OP-TEE project that adds a similar section for NXP devices that clarifies this.

Trusted Stakeholders to the OP-TEE project have already been notified once and they will receive an additional update containing the same information as you've received here.

[1] https://optee.readthedocs.io/en/latest/building/devices/rpi3.html

[2] https://optee.readthedocs.io/en/latest/architecture/porting_guidelines.html

NXP statements:

  • NXP acknowledges the fact that going into production with the default i.MX CSU configuration in OP-TEE represents a security issue.

  • However NXP is not responsible for the security configuration of OP-TEE : it’s up to the customer/developer to lock and secure the platforms according to their specific needs.

  • NXP cannot provide a secure configuration for OP-TEE that fits all customer needs : that’s why by default, the i.MX security in OP-TEE OS is open. Trying to satisfy all security needs for all different possible configurations at the same time is not doable.

  • The CSU documentation and steps to configure it properly is available in the i.MX Reference Manual.

  • NXP does not deliver OP-TEE OS as a product but as enablement software. NXP does not implement security but NXP provides tools and software for the customer to implement security.

  • NXP will publish a NXP/i.MX dedicated section in the OP-TEE documentation where a disclaimer will warn about this default open security configuration of i.MX platforms. "

It should be noted that in the NXP statement on CSU documentation above "i.MX Reference Manual" should read "i.MX Security Reference Manual" (typically available under EULA/NDA).

Affected versions

The OPTEE-OS component of all OP-TEE releases supporting NXP i.MX P/Ns are vulnerable, this includes any fork (such as NXP own OP-TEE fork) based on them.


Vulnerabilities discovered and reported by Andrea Barisani and Andrej Rosano (F-Secure Foundry).


CVE-2021-36133: OP-TEE TrustZone bypass on multiple NXP i.MX models



2021-06-07 Findings reported by F-Secure to OP-TEE security contact.
 2021-06-10 OP-TEE confirms the findings, requests 90 days embargo.
 2021-06-10 OP-TEE communicates that NXP ranks the findings as high severity. 
2021-06-11 F-Secure requests 30 days embargo.
2021-06-30 OP-TEE downgrades the findings severity from high to low.
2021-07-02 F-Secure receives CVE assignment from MITRE.
2021-07-12 Advisory release.