Tag Archives: conserving energy on embedded design

Security coprocessor marks a new approach to provisioning for IoT edge devices

It’s worth noting that security breaches rarely involve breaking the encryption code; hackers mostly use techniques like spoofing to steal the ID.

The advent of security coprocessor that offloads the provisioning task from the main MCU or MPU is bringing new possibilities for the Internet of Things product developers to secure the edge device at lower cost and power points regardless of the scale.

Hardware engineers often like to say that there is now such thing as software security, and quote Apple that has all the money in the world and an army of software developers. The maker of the iPhone chose a secure element (SE)-based hardware solution while cobbling the Apple Pay mobile commerce service. Apparently, with a hardware solution, engineers have the ecosystem fully in control.


Security is the basic building block of the IoT bandwagon, and there is a lot of talk about securing the access points. So far, the security stack has largely been integrated into the MCUs and MPUs serving the IoT products. However, tasks like encryption and authentication take a lot of battery power — a precious commodity in the IoT world.

Atmel’s solution: a coprocessor that offloads security tasks from main MCU or MPU. The ATECC508A uses elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) capabilities to create secure hardware-based key storage for IoT markets such as home automation, industrial networking and medical. This CryptoAuthentication chip comes at a manageable cost — 50 cents for low volumes — and consumers very low power. Plus, it makes provisioning — the process of generating a security key — a viable option for small and mid-sized IoT product developers.

A New Approach to Provisioning

It’s worth noting that security breaches rarely involve breaking the encryption code; hackers mostly use techniques like spoofing to steal the ID. So, the focus of the ATECC508A crypto engine is the tasks such as key generation and authentication. The chip employs ECC math to ensure sign-verify authentication and subsequently the verification of the key agreement.

The IoT security — which includes the exchange of certificates and other trusted objects — is implemented at the edge node in two steps: provisioning and commissioning. Provisioning is the process of loading a unique private key and other certificates to provide identity to a device while commissioning allows the pre-provisioned device to join a network. Moreover, provisioning is carried out during the manufacturing or testing of a device and commissioning is performed later by the network service provider and end-user.

Atmel ATECC508A crypto-engine

Presently, snooping threats are mostly countered through hardware security module (HSM), a mechanism to store, protect and manage keys, which requires a centralized database approach and entails significant upfront costs in infrastructure and logistics. On the other hand, the ATECC508A security coprocessor simplifies the deployment of secure IoT nodes through pre-provisioning with internally generated unique keys, associated certificates and certification-ready authentication.

It’s a new approach toward provisioning that not only prevents over-building, as done by the HSM-centric techniques, but also prevents cloning for the gray market. The key is controlled by a separate chip, like the ATECC508A coprocessor. Meaning, if there are 1,000 IoT systems to be built, there will be exactly 1,000 security coprocessors for them.

Certified-ID Security Platform

Back at ARM TechCon 2015, Atmel went one step ahead when it announced the availability of Certified-ID security platform for the IoT entry points like edge devices to acquire certified and trusted identities. This platform leverages internal key generation capabilities of the ATECC508A security coprocessor to deliver distributed key provisioning for any device joining the IoT network. That way it enables a decentralized secure key generation and eliminates the upfront cost of building the provisioning infrastructure for IoT setups being deployed at smaller scales.


Atmel, a pioneer in Trusted Platform Module (TPM)-based secure microcontrollers, is now working with cloud service providers like Proximetry and Exosite to turn its ATECC508A coprocessor-based Certified-ID platform into an IoT edge node-to-cloud turnkey security solution. TPM chips, which have roots in the computer industry, aren’t well-positioned to meet the cost demands of low-price IoT edge devices.

Additionally, the company has announced the availability of two provisioning toolkits for low volume IoT systems. The AT88CKECCROOT toolkit is a ‘master template’ that creates and manages certificate root of trust in any IoT ecosystem. On the other hand, AT88CKECCSIGNER is a production kit that allows designers and manufacturers to generate tamper-resistant keys and security certifications in their IoT applications.

Intelligent MCUs for Low Power Designs

By Florence Chao, Senior Field Marketing Manager, MCU Business Development

Industrial and consumer devices using ARM® Cortex®-M4

Industrial and consumer devices using ARM® Cortex®-M4

Blood glucose meters, sport watches, game controllers and accessories, guess what they all have in common. Yes, like a lot of other industrial and consumer devices, they run on batteries and demand long or extended battery life. As an engineer, this translates into a key challenge when designing an embedded computing system. You need a central heart—in this case a microcontroller—that consumes as little power as possible in both active and static modes yet doesn’t sacrifice performance.  The Atmel® SAM4L ARM® Cortex®-M4 based series is designed with this in mind.

The SAM4L microcontroller redefines low power, delivering the lowest power consumption in its class in active mode (90uZ/MHz) as well as in static mode with full RAM retention running. It also delivers the shortest wake-up time (1.5us). At the same time, this is the most efficient microcontroller available today, achieving up to 28 CoreMark/mA.

The SAM4L series integrates Atmel’s proprietary picoPower® technology

The SAM4L series integrates Atmel’s proprietary picoPower® technology

The SAM4L series integrates Atmel’s proprietary picoPower® technology, which ensures the devices are developed from the ground up—from transistor design to clocking options—to consume as little power as possible. In addition, Atmel Sleepwalking technology allows the peripherals to make intelligent decisions and wake up the system upon qualifying events at the peripheral level.

In this video, you will see how the SAM4L microcontroller supports multiple power configurations to allow the engineer to optimize its power consumption in different use cases. You will also see another good feature of the SAM4L series, Power Scaling, which is a technique to adjust the internal regulator output voltage to further reduce power consumption provided by the integrated Backup Power Manager Module. In addition, the SAM4L series comes with two regulator options to supply system power based on the application requirement. While the buck/switching regulator delivers much higher efficiency and is operational from 2 to 3.6V. The linear regulator has higher noise immunity and operates from 1.68 to 3.6V.

The Atmel® SAM4L ARM® Cortex®-M4 based Microcontroller

The Atmel® SAM4L ARM® Cortex®-M4 based Microcontroller

It’s all about system intelligence and conserving energy. Simply put, the SAM4L microcontroller is your choice if you are designing a product that requires long battery life but you don’t want to sacrifice performance.  To get started, learn more about Atmel SAM4L Xplained Pro Evaluation and Starter Kits.