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Hardware Design: Designing for Security

The devices that we come in contact with nowadays have ability to connect, share, store, and communicate important or sensitive data over a network. Connectivity has become a preamble for any device, more so that the legacy devices are also being transformed into connected devices. Devices that performed a few tasks before, are now handling lots of complex data than before.

This is where the question of security rises and it is one that has been repeatedly asked. When it comes to hardware design, it has its own challenges, where we require new approaches to deal with security issues. These security issues have to be addressed all the way from design, development to implementation.

According to MarketsandMarkets, the hardware security modules market is expected to witness high growth during the forecast period. The hardware security modules market was valued at USD 520.3 Million in 2016 and is expected to reach USD 1,101.2 Million by 2022, at a CAGR of 12.87% during the forecast period.

An embedded device does a set of critical functions that can be jeopardized at different levels by malicious anomalies.  In many cases, hardware design and prototyping, followed by manufacturing occur before the application software has been developed. This is where we need to understand that we must consider hardware security early in the product life cycle. Hardware is often considered the last line of defense when it comes to outside attacks. If an attacker compromises the hardware, then software security mechanisms may become obsolete. Hardware also has a longer lifespan than most softwares and it cannot be upgraded, whereas we can update software remotely.

Exploring Security Challenges in Hardware Design

There is no denying that if we have to secure connected devices, we also have to secure the underlying hardware of these devices. However, there are significant bottlenecks that need to be addressed in order to secure embedded systems.

  • Processing Power: Processing power is the key behind the performance of every embedded device. If we look at the existing embedded systems architecture, most of them are not capable of fulfilling the current computing demands of security related processing. This is due to the increasing rates of data, and the complexity of security protocols. These shortcomings are mostly felt in systems that need to process highly complex streams of data.
  • Battery Consumption: One of the challenges is that security protocols in an embedded system consume a lot of battery power. The battery capacities have very slowly evolved in the last few years and have been outpaced by security requirements. This has caused a battery gap where hardware designers are picking the performance of the product over its security concerns.
  • Network: An embedded device connects to various networks over 3G, 4G, WiFi among other connections. This is another area that is targeted by hackers, but security protocols are also evolving. There is a need to make security architecture to be more flexible to adapt to constantly evolving security changes.
  • Costs associated to implementing security: We are no strangers to the fact that cost is another driving factor in implementing required security measures. To understand the implications of a security related design choice on the overall system cost, hardware design experts can also consider incorporating physical security mechanisms in a single-chip cryptographic module.
  • Malicious Softwares: Attacks mostly are due to malicious software such as viruses or Trojan horse, which are the most common threats to any embedded system face. These attacks can exploit vulnerabilities in the operating system (OS) or application, to get access to the system, and disrupt its functions. Through these attacks, attackers can manipulate sensitive data or processes (integrity attacks), steal confidential user data, and lock the user out of the systems. It is necessary to develop and deploy various security measures on the hardware against these attacks.

Some basic points to include security in your Hardware Design

  • One of the first things a hardware design specialist needs to understand is that, security concerns keep evolving and so do security measures. Therefore, before getting to the design, one of the first things to consider is understanding the requirement thoroughly by clearly defining it. Sometimes we ambitiously come up with assurance and security requirements, which are then marred by heavy development costs, time, and efforts.
  • One of the common ways of implementing security is through SSLs and encrypting the functions to minimize security attacks. However, implementing SSL involves using processing power, which may affect the performance of the system, especially in battery operated systems or devices. This is where we need security processing. Security processing refers to a set of tasks that need to be performed in a device or a system for ensuring security. There are different approaches that can be implemented to address the challenges of security processing gap. To cover this gap, you can reduce the security processing requirements, or enhance the capabilities of the processor of the device or system.
  • One of the basic requirements of embedded systems is the flexibility to connect in different environments. This is why there is a need for flexible security protocols that can support security standards at different layers.
  • Most embedded devices may have a silicon, which is the brain behind the device. Securing the silicon will also result in reducing security threats. Hardware support is required in protecting device identities in IoT in order to isolate them from the multiple software layers, which keep changing due to recurring updates, to prevent remote extraction or countering unauthorized changes or modifications. Keys used to verify the software must be securely provisioned onto the hardware and integrity-protected, independently from the software it is supposed to verify. It should be loaded at different stages of the device lifecycle, at manufacturing or via Over-The-Air (OTA).

The aforementioned points can be kept in mind in order to incorporate security as an important aspect of your hardware design. Various other factors can also be implemented to improve security as part of hardware design.

At eInfochips, we have hardware design teams that are dedicated to implementing the best security standards according to market standards to reduce the risks of threats. To know more, get in touch with our teams to know more about our hardware design services.

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