Java Card 3.1: Security Services

December 7, 2022 | 5 minute read
Nicolas Ponsini
Security Solutions Architect
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A key goal of version 3.1 is to ensure the availability of security services on a large range of secure hardware, including smartcards, embedded chips, secure enclaves within microprocessor units (MPUs) and microcontroller units (MCUs), and removable SIMs. It was designed to support the growth of existing Java Card markets, such as payment, identity, and connectivity markets, while enabling new IoT use cases with dedicated features. This blog entry covers those features.

Security services in Java Card 3.1 include the Certificate API, the Key Derivation API, the Monotonic Counter API, and the System Time API. Let’s look at these in more detail.

Certificate API. Cryptographic certificates are critical for security and serve as a basis in a public key infrastructure (PKI) to establish trust between different entities. A notable example of a protocol using cryptographic certificates is the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol. Based on certificate chains, a client (such as an IoT gateway) and a server (for example, an IoT cloud service) can authenticate each other.

The package is an efficient way to manage cryptographic certificates such as X.509 certificates for memory- and resource-constrained devices.

With Java Card’s Certificate API, it is possible to verify a certificate signature, select and check some of its fields and extensions, and access its public key—without needing to create a dedicated certificate object that is potentially useless in the future. You can also build a certificate object (for example, for root certificates) that will be reused later, while deciding on fields and extensions that need to be associated with this certificate object and storing only useful components of the certificate.

With these mechanisms, an application has an efficient way to verify a certificate chain, check sensitive certificate fields, and keep track of trusted public keys.

Key Derivation API. Pseudorandom functions (PRFs) and key derivation functions (KDFs) are widely used in cryptography to derive sensitive data such as a secret key. They make it possible to stretch a secret or to derive multiple keys from it.

A typical usage is the derivation of a password to store a derived value without needing to store the initial password value. Another common example is the derivation of the shared secret established by a key-agreement operation in Diffie-Hellman (DH) or Elliptic-Curve Diffie Hellman (ECDH) key exchange. Another example is the TLS handshake protocol, which uses a PRF applied to a shared secret in between a client and a server to generate the cryptographic block material used during a TLS session between the two peers.

Java Card 3.1 introduces the package. Its class DerivationFunction permits the management of both PRF and KDF algorithms, and it is easily extensible. Currently, eight algorithms are proposed that enable support for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) or TLS protocols, among others.

In addition, the Key Derivation API guarantees both the security of the derivation keys and the derived keys by encapsulating them into trusted objects.

Monotonic Counter API. To prevent replay attacks, numerous security protocols use monotonic counters, which are counters whose value can only increase. Once the value of a monotonic counter has been used, the counter is incremented (typically by 1). Thus, if a counter value has been attached to a given protocol payload at a certain time, it is guaranteed that the same counter value cannot be reused and attached to the same protocol payload later. This allows a third party consuming the protocol payload to know whether it has already been used by checking the counter value.

Device attestation (also known as remote attestation) is an example of a payload that needs to be protected against replay attacks. A remote attestation is a signature of software measurements running on a given device, and the attestation is sent to a third party. The third party can check whether a device is running unaltered software and can make sure the attestation is current and not replayed from the past.

External secure storage is another example requiring a monotonic counter. DRM licenses or the number of PIN entry tries are typical sensitive data protected by a Java Card secure element. In some hardware architectures, like the ones with an integrated secure element, such sensitive data might be stored in the memory flash of the host device; that is, in storage external to the secure element hardware itself. Thus, untrusted and rogue applications from the device host might be able to save and restore later such sensitive data. In the case of a DRM license, this risk would mean that access to a content item is granted an unlimited number of times instead of the initial limited times granted originally. Hence, in addition to integrity and confidentiality, the secure element must guarantee an anti-replay protection to sensitive data stored in external secure storage.

The package and its MonotonicCounter class enable the creation and management of multiple monotonic counters of up to 64 bits each. The Monotonic Counter API guarantees the atomicity of the update of the counter value.

System Time API. Time stamping and time interval calculation are important security operations. Time stamps enable you to record or check the time at which an event occurred. Estimating a time interval allows you to limit the duration of a transaction, for instance.

Java Card 3.1 introduces the package javacardx.framework.time, which has two classes:

  • SysTime serves to retrieve the uptime; that is, the time elapsed since system boot. It does not require an internal clock.
  • TimeDuration represents a time duration with microsecond resolution. Several operations, such as comparisons and conversions as well as plus and minus operations, are supported.

Java Card’s System Time API can support a variety of use cases related to device security. For example, consider an IoT device managing a temperature sensor in the chemical industry. This monitoring system is critical and needs to react to unexpected temperature variations. With the new I/O mechanism introduced in Java Card 3.1 and the System Time API, an application has the ability to retrieve a temperature value securely and to assess the elapsed time since the beginning of the measurement. If the time is too short or too long compared with the average expected value, this is reported to the monitoring system, which will trigger corrective operations such as changing the sensor or checking for a corruption of the IoT device software.


Java Card Information




  About Java Card:

  Java Card Technology

  Java Card 3.1 Documentation


Nicolas Ponsini

Security Solutions Architect

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