Evident by a recent infographic published by Forbes, it appears people are finally cognizant of the urgent need for security. It’s clearer than ever that hacking has become a real problem over the web and into electronic devices. With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), we consistently find ourselves connecting these gadgets and gizmos to the web. As a result, security becomes a key issue throughout the entire chain.
Analog Aficionado Paul Rako recently had the chance to catch up with Bill Boldt, Atmel’s resident security expert, to explore the latest threats and trends in security as well as how Atmel can help secure products across the spectrum. Not in the reading mood? There’s a pretty sweet playlist of all the footage from the 1:1 interview here.
In the first segment of the interview, Boldt discusses how an engineer or designer can use Atmel’s CryptoAuthentication chips to ensure that the accessories to a particular product are genuine. Here, the security expert talks about using symmetrical authentication to certify that only a drill manufacturer’s batteries will work on its own drill.
If you recall, Boldt provided an in-depth exploration into this same demo, which can be found here. Though securing hardware is great, if you wanted, you could make this symmetrical authentication protect any kind of plug-in or device, even if it is not electronic. In fact, this safeguard is used on things ranging from ink cartridges to e-cigarettes; moreover, medical device manufactures love this technology since it protects them from liability from knockoff products.
This can help secure products with add-ons or attachments, but an even greater value for hardware security comes when you use these chips to make sure that your device has not had its code or operating system hijacked. Since the interface between the microcontroller and the crypto chip is only sending a random number from the micro, and the one-time result from the crypto chip in response, snooping on the SPI port will not help you crack the code. Now, your microcontroller firmware can query the chip and ensure that it indeed gets the proper result — if someone attacks the firmware and puts their own code, it won’t execute since it cannot get past the protected part of the chip code that has to get a valid response from the crypto chip.
You can extend this to secure downloads as well. As long as your code requires the downloaded segment to query and respond to the tiny crypto chip, only your code will work since only you know the secret key programmed into the chip.
“As a hardware engineer, I am just as fascinated by the cool packages we use as well as all the math and firmware algorithms,” says Rako.
In the subsequent video of the interview, Boldt describes the packaging for the crypto chips, in addition to a unique three-pad package manufactured by Atmel that does not need to be mounted on a circuit board at all.
During the segment, Boldt also delves deeper into some security scenarios for the IoT, incuding some great analogies. Furthermore, the security guru reminds viewers that these Atmel CryptoAuthentication chips will work with any company’s microcontroller, not just Atmel’s.
One thing you hear bandies about in security are the dissimilarities between both symmetric and asymmetric. The aforementioned drill demo was symmetric, since both the drill and the battery had the secret key programmed into the MCU and the crypto chip, respectively. Here, Boldt expands on the topic and how Atmel does all the hard math so you don’t have to worry about it.
Concluding his interview with Rako, Boldt addresses the fact that you can use the crypto chip not only in a drill, but in the charger as well to guarantee that only your OEM charge will charge your OEM batteries. The resident security expert wraps up by noticing that people can counterfeit those holograms on a product’s box, but they can’t hack hardware security chips.
Interested in learning more? Explore hardware-based security solutions for every system design here. Look to secure the full stack? You can receive a FREE Atmel CryptoAuthentication™ development tool. For more in-depth analysis from Bill Boldt, you can browse through his archive on Bits & Pieces.