This guide provides an overview of the overall security features available in Espressif solutions. It is highly recommended to consider this guide while designing the products with Espressif platform and ESP-IDF software stack from the “security” perspective.
High level security goals are as follows:
Preventing untrusted code execution
Protecting the identity and integrity of the code stored in the off-chip flash memory
Securing device identity
Secure storage for confidential data
Authenticated and encrypted communication from the device
Secure Boot feature ensures that only authenticated software can execute on the device. Secure boot process forms chain of trust by verifying all mutable software entities involved in the ESP-IDF boot process. Signature verification happens during both boot-up as well as OTA updates.
Please refer to the Secure Boot (v2) Guide for detailed documentation about this feature.
It is highly recommended that a secure boot feature be enabled on all production devices.
Secure Boot Best Practices
Generate the signing key on a system with a quality source of entropy.
Always keep the signing key private. A leak of this key will compromise the Secure Boot system.
Do not allow any third party to observe any aspects of the key generation or signing process using espsecure.py. Both processes are vulnerable to timing or other side-channel attacks.
Ensure that all security eFuses have been correctly programmed, includes disabling of the debug interfaces, non-required boot mediums (e.g., UART DL mode) etc.
Flash Encryption feature helps to encrypt the contents on the off-chip flash memory and thus provides the “confidentiality” aspect to the software or data stored in the flash memory.
Please refer to the Flash Encryption Guide for detailed documentation about this feature.
Flash Encryption Best Practices
It is recommended to use Flash Encryption release mode for the production use-cases.
It is recommended to have a unique flash encryption key per device.
Enable Secure Boot as an extra layer of protection, and to prevent an attacker from selectively corrupting any part of the flash before boot.
Digital Signature Peripheral in ESP32-C3 produces hardware accelerated RSA digital signatures (with assistance of HMAC), without the RSA private key being accessible by software. This allows the private key to be kept secured on the device without anyone other than the device hardware being able to access it.
This peripheral can help to establish the “Secure Device Identity” to the remote endpoint, e.g., in the case of TLS mutual authentication based on RSA cipher scheme.
Please refer to the DS Peripheral Guide for detailed documentation.
ESP32-C3 supports “Memory Protection” scheme (either through architecture or special peripheral like PMS) which provides an ability to enforce and monitor permission attributes to memory (and peripherals in some cases). ESP-IDF application startup code configures the permissions attributes like Read/Write access on data memories and Read/Execute access on instruction memories using this peripheral. If there is any attempt made that breaks these permission attributes (e.g., a write operation to instruction memory region) then a violation interrupt is raised, and it results in system panic.
This feature depends on the config option CONFIG_ESP_SYSTEM_MEMPROT_FEATURE and it is kept default enabled. Please note that the API for this feature is
private and used exclusively by ESP-IDF code only.
This feature can help to prevent the possibility of remote code injection due to the existing vulnerabilities in the software.
JTAG interfaces stays disabled if any of the security features are enabled, please refer to JTAG with Flash Encryption or Secure Boot for more information.
JTAG interface can also be disabled in the absence of any other security features using eFuse API.
ESP32-C3 supports soft disabling the JTAG interface and it can be re-enabled by programming a secret key through HMAC. (HMAC for Enabling JTAG)
UART DL Mode
In ESP32-C3, Secure UART Download mode gets activated if any of the security features are enabled.
Secure UART Download mode can also be enabled by calling
This mode does not allow any arbitrary code to execute if downloaded through the UART download mode.
It also limits the available commands in Download mode to update SPI config, changing baud rate, basic flash write and a command to return a summary of currently enabled security features (get_security_info).
In Secure UART Download mode,
esptool can only work with the argument
In addition to the traditional security methods (WEP/WPA-TKIP/WPA2-CCMP), Wi-Fi driver in ESP-IDF also supports additional state-of-the-art security protocols. Please refer to the Wi-Fi Security for detailed documentation.
TLS (Transport Layer Security)
It is recommended to use TLS (Transport Layer Security) in all external communications, e.g., cloud communication, OTA updates etc. from the ESP device. ESP-IDF supports mbedTLS as the official TLS stack.
It is recommended to use ESP-IDF protocol components in their default configuration which has been ensured to be secure. Disabling HTTPS and similar security critical configurations should be avoided.
ESP-IDF provides an abstraction layer for most used TLS functionalities and hence it is recommended that an application makes use of the API exposed by ESP-TLS.
TLS Server verification section highlights diverse ways in which the identity of server could be established on the device side.
ESP Certificate Bundle
The ESP x509 Certificate Bundle API provides an easy way to include a bundle of custom x509 root certificates for TLS server verification. The certificate bundle is the easiest way to verify the identity of almost all standard TLS servers.
It is highly recommended to verify the identity of the server (based on X.509 certificates) to avoid establishing communication with the fake server.
Secure Provisioning refers to a process of secure on-boarding of the ESP device on to the Wi-Fi network. This mechanism also allows provision of additional custom configuration data during the initial provisioning phase from the provisioning entity (e.g., Smartphone).
ESP-IDF provides various security schemes to establish a secure session between ESP and the provisioning entity, they are highlighted at Security Schemes.
Please refer to the Wi-Fi Provisioning documentation for details and example code for this feature.
Espressif provides Android and iOS Phone Apps along with their sources so that it could be easy to further customize them as per the product requirement.
Secure OTA (Over-the-air) Updates
OTA Updates must happen over secure transport, e.g., HTTPS.
ESP-IDF provides a simplified abstraction layer ESP HTTPS OTA for this.
If Secure Boot is enabled then server should host the signed application image.
If Flash Encryption is enabled then no additional steps are required on the server side, encryption shall be taken care on the device itself during flash write.
OTA update Rollback Process can help to switch the application as
activeonly after its functionality has been verified.
Anti-rollback protection feature ensures that device only executes application that meets the security version criteria as stored in its eFuse. So even though the application is trusted and signed by legitimate key it may contain some revoked security feature or credential and hence device must reject any such application.
ESP-IDF allows this feature for the application only and it’s managed through 2nd stage bootloader. The security version is stored in the device eFuse and it’s compared against the application image header during both bootup and over-the-air updates.
Please see more information to enable this feature in the Anti-rollback guide.
Encrypted Firmware Distribution
Encrypted firmware distribution during over-the-air updates ensure that the application stays encrypted in transit from server to the the device. This can act as an additional layer of protection on top of the TLS communication during OTA updates and protect the identity of the application.
Please see working example for this documented in OTA Upgrades with Pre-Encrypted Firmware section.
Secure storage refers to the application specific data that can be stored in a secure manner on the device (off-chip flash memory). This is typically read-write flash partition and holds device specific configuration data e.g., Wi-Fi credentials.
ESP-IDF provides “NVS (Non-volatile Storage)” management component which allows encrypted data partitions. This feature is tied with the platform Flash Encryption feature described earlier.
Please refer to the NVS Encryption for detailed documentation on the working and instructions to enable this feature.
By default, ESP-IDF components writes the device specific data into the default NVS partition (includes Wi-Fi credentials too) and it is recommended to protect this data using “NVS Encryption” feature.
Secure Device Control
ESP-IDF provides capability to control an ESP device over
Wi-Fi + HTTP or
BLE in a secure manner using ESP Local Control component.
Please refer to the ESP Local Control for detailed documentation about this feature.
ESP-IDF GitHub repository has attached Security Policy Brief.
Critical security issues in the ESP-IDF components, 3rd party libraries are fixed as and when we find them or when they are reported to us. Gradually, we make the fixes available in all applicable release branches in ESP-IDF.
Applicable security issues and CVEs for the ESP-IDF components, 3rd party libraries are mentioned in the ESP-IDF release notes.
We recommend periodically updating to the latest bugfix version of the ESP-IDF release to have all critical security fixes available.