Security, the essential pillar in the Internet of Things

The three hardware pillars of the Internet of Things (IoT) are microcontrollers, wireless chips, and security chips. What is cool about Atmel is that we make all three types of hardware. Atmel is on the ground floor of the Internet of Things (IoT).

I was a pretty natural evolution, since the “Things” are really embedded systems. Atmel has made the chips driving embedded systems ever since the AVR series came out in 1995. So having a really strong position in microcontrollers is essential to any IoT company.

Another pillar of IoT is wireless. Sure, some embedded systems plug in with an RJ45 connector. Indeed, the SAM4E chip has an “E” in the name that stands for its on-board Ethernet controller. But many of these clever new “Things” will connect wirelessly. For that Atmel has Wi-Fi chips, Bluetooth chips, Zigbee chips, and even the chips used in car access key fobs you can use to communicate wirelessly to a hub or base station.


What is not obvious to a lot of people is that security is an equally important pillar in the Internet of Things. Think of the medical privacy laws. Those laws may well apply to any data you are sending to the cloud. At the recent Internet of Things Privacy Summit held here in Silicon Valley, Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer at McAfee noted:

 “There has to be a layer of security from the (computer) chip outward. Sure, you want your health information going to your doctor. But you need to help people feel confident that it’s not going elsewhere.”

What is great about Atmel is that we also have a complete line of security chips. You can use these chips to make sure that your “Thing” is the actual and genuine thing it is supposed to be. You can use our chips to make sure that it’s the right thing to be plugged into some other system. You can use security chips to make sure the code you are executing is the genuine code and not some hijack attempt. What I love is that many of the security chips have several kilobytes of undedicated non-volatile memory. So along with security, you have a place to store setup or user information that will persist even when power is cycled to your device.

Back in 1994 my programmer buddy John Haggis showed me the World Wide Web on his computer. It was Mosaic browser looking at a few academic websites. John was really excited. I didn’t get it.”What’s the big deal about that?” I asked. It just seemed like a fancy version of the dial-up bulletin boards I was using to get datasheets and CAD models. I won’t make that clueless mistake with IoT. This is going to be huge. The Internet of Things has all the network effects of the Internet combined with the convenience and utility of the embedded systems that have been making our lives better for the past few decades. Our automotive group tells me that we can look at future cars as just another thing in the Internet of Things. I have written up how IoT will help farmers. You can bet IoT will be a big thing in industrial automation. And there will be a major impact in consumer electronics, from thermostats to toasters. We haven’t even dreamed up some of the “killer apps” for the Internet of Things. Fasten your seat belt, it’s going to be a wild ride.

1 thought on “Security, the essential pillar in the Internet of Things

  1. williamboldt2014

    The dirty little secret of the IoT is that there probably cannot be such a thing as the Internet of Things if those things are not secure. Just this week a major investment research company made the observation that semiconductor companies with security are the ones who will be able to make the IoT a reality and thus will be more valuable than thier competitors who have not figured that out.

    Security silicon will play a fundamental and catalytic role in the creation, ramp, and sustainability of the IoT. Making sure that the nodes in the various networks are authentic and that the data being transmitted have not been tampered with (i.e. data integrity) is what is required. (Fortunately Atmel makes exactly those types of devices.)

    With estimates of over 50 billion IoT nodes by 2020 according to Cisco, it is easy to see why security is so desireable. That is because when there will be billions of things keeping track of where you are, how fast you are going, what you may be doing, your biology, your purchases and accounts, and numerous other things you want real and robust control over that data.

    You don’t want interlopers getting that data or sending you incorrect data. That should be totally obvious to anyone at this point. Security matters….a lot.

    So, authentication may in actual fact be the sine qua non (i.e. “without which there is nothing”) of the IoT.

    Or, to put it another way: No security? No IoT for you.



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