Internet of Things (IoT) product development teams often look to what the market is asking for when drawing up design specifications. The problem is, the market doesn’t yet understand how critical security is for every device that will be connected to the internet. Nor is it clear just how important—and valuable—security is becoming to a company’s brand. The scope of security goes far beyond simply protecting internal IP in a device that a company cannot afford to have compromised. Consumers are learning the real value that security directly provides them and are more often thinking: This device doesn’t have security. I shouldn’t buy it.
With the greater capabilities of IoT come greater vulnerabilities. Consider the benefits of an IoT-based moisture-monitoring system for gardens. Deployed over a wide region, the water savings could be tremendous. However, if the system were hacked, water could be left running all day or, alternatively, shut off with plants dead before anyone realizes there’s a problem.
Scale matters here. It’s not just one garden. The same device could be deployed in thousands to millions of locations. So the potential waste and loss could be devastating across a city. And if the system hacked belongs to a major farm, next year’s harvest could be held hostage. When seen in these terms, IoT security could scale up to be a national infrastructure concern.
That’s just for a moisture sensor. Now consider the threat when we have devices in our homes that can tell when we are there (or more importantly when we are not there). Or devices that assist in driving our cars. Or devices that monitor the health of our children. We absolutely need to have trust and confidence in the security of these devices for them to be successfully deployed in our ever-growing connected world.
The problem with an insecure IoT device is that it potentially creates a way into what might otherwise be a secure network. Consider all the IoT devices that could be deployed in a home, retail space or factory, including connected lights, motion sensors and even “unimportant” ones like the connected fish tank in the lobby. If any one of these devices is not secure, the network is not secure. If you plan to sell into any commercial, industrial, medical, automotive, military or any other non-consumer market, you will need to be able to assure your customers that you have thoroughly taken their network’s security into account.
Security needs to be thorough to be effective. Focusing solely on cost can lead to non-intuitive vulnerabilities that can still bring a network down. For example, IoT security often focuses on creating a secure connection across the network. However, an implementation that stops here may not provide data integrity.
Consider that many IoT business models rely on the capture of data generated by node devices. Decisions will be made about this data both at the node and in the cloud. But what if the data itself has been compromised? Even though the corrupted data will be securely transported through the cloud, the services based on this data will still be compromised in turn. Depending upon which study you read, the IoT is estimated to reach tens of billions of devices by 2020. That’s a lot of open targets.
A common approach to understanding IoT security
Currently, there is a great deal of confusion and uncertainty in the IoT market about security – OEM’s don’t necessarily know what threats and vulnerabilities they need to protect against or how much security needs to be designed into a system for a particular application. In addition, the lack of a standard approach to IoT security has led to fragmentation. Together, these factors drive up implementation costs and impede growth.
As a leader in IoT-based technology, Arm has recognized the need for bringing the industry together to address security in a consistent and comprehensive way, ensuring the right level of security is designed into systems right from the start of product conception. To solve some of these challenges, Arm is developing the Platform Security Architecture (PSA), initially focusing on the security challenges faced by IoT designers.
PSA is an umbrella term to cover security across the many phases of IoT development. One purpose of PSA is to bring clarity to OEMs to help them understand their application-specific security requirements. With guidelines for designing secure systems based on best practices, PSA enables OEMs to develop secure products, with the appropriate level of security features and IP, and get to market faster. To aid this, over the last year, Arm has:
• Published sample threat models and analysis [TMSA] documents for three typical IoT applications, that can be used as reference examples by IoT designers;
• Launched Trusted Firmware (for the Cortex-M processor family) which will offer comprehensive open source reference security firmware for IoT developers; and
• Released a set of security specifications that Arm has developed closely collaborating with semiconductor companies and the wider security ecosystem.
It is important to note that PSA is architecture-independent and flexible enough to be applicable to any IoT platform. It helps the industry to move to a common approach. It is also based on mature, robust IP and security concepts. For example, TrustZone technology, which enables hardware isolation of the secure side of a system from the non-secure side, has been available since around 2005 in the mobile market space.
PSA also specifically addresses the limitations of IoT applications. With Trusted Firmware, for example, the experience gained deploying security in the mobile phone market space has been optimized for the resource-constrained requirements of embedded and IoT edge devices, like those based on the Cortex-M processors. These are typically low power devices that may need to provide many years of operation on a single battery so highly optimized security firmware is of critical importance.
Perhaps the most important aspect of PSA is the flexibility that it offers. IoT designers are able to differentiate their secure products by bringing together the optimal IP for their specific application requirements. For example, is possible to take an off the shelf Cortex-M33-based MCU, which implements TrustZone technology, and use this alongside their own in-house security IP, or maybe an IoT designer may wish to develop their own ASIC/ASSP and utilize the Arm CryptoCell hardware and software-based security. To support this flexibility, Trusted Firmware is open-source, so it can be used a reference example and ported to each individual design as required. This flexibility will play an important role in accelerating the number, and success, of future secure IoT designs.
The openness of PSA will foster innovation and enable the faster introduction of new and innovative business models as the higher confidence and trust in IoT device security features and capabilities will enable a thriving ecosystem. Such an ecosystem also gives OEMs greater choice so that they can implement the right level of security at the right cost for their application.
PSA enables an OEM to build and grow their security awareness so that they can better understand system requirements, and crucially the value of security, in the context of their specific applications. It does this by providing a framework for building secure systems. PSA is not about reinventing security. Rather, it is a way to bring many industries together to develop a common understanding and approach to effective IoT security.
Accelerating a secure IoT
The truth is, many innovative IoT companies may have little understanding of the intricacies of security. Some companies, however, like those who design payment systems, have already developed extremely effective ways to implement security. Through PSA, the lessons learned and best practices of these companies experienced with security, can be shared in areas where there is little security knowledge and experience.
This approach will accelerate the industry ability to create secure IoT devices. First, by bringing the industry together, PSA will help to reduce fragmentation that often accompanies emerging technologies. Second, though an ecosystem and marketplace and standardized approach to security, the industry can re-use their security experience and technology over and over again. Third, companies will have access to greater security than they could otherwise develop on their own. Through PSA, for example, an OEM will be able to mandate a level of security to protect e.g. application data without having to develop that expertise internally. This will result in faster time to market, lower device cost, more secure applications and greater profitability.
With the common understanding and framework provided by PSA, the IoT industry will be able to ensure security is implemented throughout the entire IoT value chain and through all stages of product development. PSA will enable trust and confidence in the security of the internet of things.