Mobile Security needs fully baked solutions at the SoC level
Mobile usage continues to permeate our daily lives thanks to increased functionality and application diversity; a fact that is resulting in sensitive data and high-value transactions taking place across mobile devices. Mobile phones are now relied upon for financial transactions and sensitive information transmission—high value operations that carry with them substantial security concerns.
The battle to secure our devices truly begins at the point when Internet-connected phones are designed and manufactured. Today’s complex global supply chains are fraught with numerous challenges that can result in both security breaches and operational inefficiency, which have a downstream impact on device security and functionality.
Downstream examples of mobile security issues like those that might disturb financial transactions have their roots far earlier in the process. The provisioning of cryptographic keys to mobile devices during manufacturing represents significant risk for mobile device chipmakers. The liability of leaking such keys during this process can cost millions of dollars per instance. Along those lines, the potential cost caused by a data breach during the manufacturing process is also substantial.
At the same time that chipmakers need to be concerned about data breaches, the fears around counterfeit components and IP theft also loom large. The IHS has found that the five most prevalent types of semiconductors reported as counterfeits with the most widespread commercial and military use represent $169 billion in potential annual risk for the global electronics supply chain.
The confluence of concerns around the semiconductor supply chain and the increase in mobile device reliance has driven the need for robust security. Simply put; in much the same way that it’s difficult to fortify a home’s foundation after it’s been constructed, meaningful device security must take place at the SoC level and be implemented during manufacturing.
Beyond shoring up supply chain security, this secure foundation mitigates risk downstream, providing the groundwork for future application needs and eliminating piece meal security solutions that complicate security while adding complexity.
Chip manufacturers today reduce manufacturing complexity and business risk by purchasing wafers through contract wafer foundries and by contracting chip package assembly and test services in remote locations. For these chip makers, there are typically multiple suppliers around the world manufacturing chips remotely.
With mobile devices housing more and more sensitive data that is utilized in a wide variety of applications, chip suppliers must meet the complex security requirements for each potential use case or capability. Most security measures require the injection of secret identity data and cryptographic keys. These digital assets must be protected throughout the manufacturing process, including those functions that are outsourced in other parts of the world, in order to keep each device’s most vital secrets from being exposed.
While highly-sophisticated technologies are often employed to secure information inside a device, the process of key injection during fabrication and test operations may expose valuable key data. Similarly, test/debug capabilities are often fully enabled on un-programmed chips (i.e. enabled by default), creating additional security challenges.
This sensitive SoC configuration information is provisioned in the open without encryption on test equipment which is operated by third party contract manufacturers. These current provisioning methods expose chip manufacturers to liability and risks for any security breach that occurs within their supply chain.
Additionally, this exposure opens up vulnerabilities in the supply chain and the ability to transfer technology and engage in grey market activity. The vulnerability for cryptographic keys to be leaked and used improperly presents a serious problem given the expanded role of keys in the lifecycle of contemporary mobile devices.
By mitigating system security risks from cryptographic key injection, device configuration, and feature management throughout the fabrication, assembly and test/debug operations within the global manufacturing supply chain, chip manufacturers can create the foundation required to secure a mobile device throughout its lifecycle. This process begins in the design phase of SoC manufacturing and hinges upon the creation of a hardware root of trust; one that can be utilized to gain visibility and control throughout the manufacturing process.
The use of a robust root of trust core in the initial design and manufacturing of a chip provides a security “nervous system” for the SoC to address fundamental security tasks during chip and device manufacturing. This soft silicon IP core embedded in the SoC creates a secure endpoint throughout the manufacturing and device lifecycle.
The second element coupled with a secure hardware core that allows for maximum visibility over an otherwise unruly manufacturing process is the creation of a secure infrastructure to remotely connect and communicate with the embedded hardware core. The implementation of a cloud-based infrastructure that securely connects with the soft silicon IP core endpoint provides chipmakers with maximum control, allowing for remote provisioning of cryptographic keys and a high degree of security confidence in a global and often insecure supply chain.
The Long Term Benefits
According to Gartner Research, mobile phones are expected to dominate overall device shipments with 1.9 billion mobile phones projected to ship in 2014, suggesting that mobility continues to grow and permeate our world. Today’s mobile security ecosystem is complex and convoluted with a variety of stop gap, limited solutions that operate on the software level of a device long after the manufacturing process is complete.
By building a secure hardware core into a mobile SoC, chipmakers are securing the manufacturing process. Establishing a root of trust at the earliest stages of a device’s lifecycle provides robust security for downstream provisioning operations which would otherwise be vulnerable to attack. By utilizing a secure infrastructure, chipmakers have the ability to remotely provision cryptographic keys and device features during manufacturing while also providing a platform to utilize the hardware root of trust throughout the device lifecycle.
This secure hardware root of trust eliminates much of the complexity and risk associated with downstream security practices which has broad benefits for high-value use cases tied to secure identity services, content protection, and financial transactions on mobile connected devices.
Craig Rawlings, senior director of business development, Cryptography Research Inc. (CRI), a division of Rambus, has a B.S.E.E. degree and M.B.A. from BYU, and has had held senior engineering and executive marketing and sales positions at Blackberry, Kilopass, Progress Software, Resilience, Actel, and Hewlett Packard prior to joining CRI.