secure cloud connectivity for embedded systems

The Best Way to Secure Cloud Connectivity for Embedded Systems

Devices that connect to the internet are growing each year exponentially. Arm predicts that by 2035 an astounding one trillion embedded systems will be connected to the internet. Security is paramount, and experts need to find the best ways to securely connect embedded devices to the cloud.

This presents a major challenge to both developers and manufacturers. They already faced major challenges like reducing the time to market and ever-shortening product life cycles. However, they must now contend with complex security issues as well and thus find a safe way to securely connect embedded devices to the cloud.

Security can be a complex affair, even on standalone systems. But on highly interconnected systems, the intricacy exponentiates. Most developers are unaware of security best practices and how to implement them.

Solutions for connecting IoT devices as well embedded systems to the cloud now exist both in proprietary as well as open source form.

Arm has created design flows, tools, and standards that developers can leverage to create secure embedded systems more rapidly.

CMSIS

CMSIS stands for Cortex Microcontroller Software Interface Standard. This is a hardware abstraction layer that is independent of vendor design. CMSIS greatly eases the learning curve so that software developers can get up to speed in good time.

Although originally developed for Arm Cortex-M, microcontrollers, CMSIS later became applicable to Cortex A5, A7, and A9 peripherals and cores. In addition, devices made by major chip manufacturers like Renesas, Microchip, and NXP all make use of CMSIS.

PSA

The Platform Security Architecture comprises firmware and hardware architecture specifications, security analysis, and threat models. The purpose of the PSA is to instill security at the firmware and hardware level based on best practices.

Arm also liaises with Amazon Web Services and other cloud service providers to ease embedded system design. This makes it simpler to securely connect embedded systems with the cloud.

With built-in security via PSA and CMSIS, embedded systems are safer and bolster the security of networks they connect with.

Embedded systems can also greatly benefit from best practices designed to mitigate security threats endemic to the cloud.

Updates – Critical to Network Security

Software and firmware updates are of the essence. Attackers exploit weaknesses and flaws in the software and firmware of embedded devices, enabling them to gain unauthorized access to such devices.

Hence, designers and manufacturers of embedded systems should not only build security into these devices (using CMSIS and PSA as explained above), they should also analyze their systems to hunt for flaws and weaknesses. Based on the findings of this analysis, they should roll out software and firmware updates to patch security in their embedded devices. Consumers and customers should take care to immediately install such security updates as soon as they become available.

The benefit of this continuous improvement in security is that embedded systems remain safer throughout the product life cycle, rather than just when they were developed.

Manufacturers benefit from this approach since they do not have to resort to product recalls when security flaws come to the fore. Nor do they have to suffer the fallout of bad publicity that follows such recalls. Thus, they can maintain high consumer confidence by giving due regard to the security of their embedded systems and ensuring that they safely connect with the cloud.

Simple Network Management Protocol

Simple Network Management Protocol or the SNMP is a well-known method for managing embedded systems as well as network equipment. The protocol currently in use is the 3rd iteration. It is known as SNMPv3.

SNMP is a protocol that controls a network management system, an agent, and the managed device.

The managed device simply refers to the device which connects with the network. The managed device implements the SNMP protocol.

SNMPv3 provides a layer of security via remote configuration, view-based access control, logical contexts for administration and authentication.

Enterprise Solutions

Enterprise solutions are also available to securely connect embedded devices to the cloud.

NMC (Network Management Center) of HP and Rendezvous messaging product of TIBCO are software solutions for managing embedded systems and networked devices. These solutions can quickly be adapted for implementation in devices that use SNMP.

Such software can be run in the cloud to monitor and manage cloud assets.

The proprietary solution NMC can be adapted for use with SNMP. Rendezvous and its various APIs are more flexible in comparison though to NMC.

According to the most conservative estimates, several billion embedded systems and IoT devices are connected with the cloud. Compared to what we see in reality, previous forecasts predicted many embedded systems and IoT devices connected with the cloud. So why did these forecasts fall short? The short answer is security threats.

A secure connection between the cloud and embedded systems is necessary for IoT to realize its full potential. However, this security depends on two key factors.

Identification

Data recipient and sender identity must be verified beyond doubt. For this purpose, it is necessary that microcontrollers as well as other embedded systems have a unique identity that cannot be forged.

Encrypted Secure Cloud Connectivity for Embedded Systems

Message transmission should be done so that even if messages are intercepted, they cannot be deciphered and read by third parties. Only the sender and intended recipient should be capable of deciphering and reading this encrypted data.

Such needs are met by certificates of authentication and cryptographic keys that are integral to deciphering these encrypted messages.

The cryptographic keys together with the device identity constitute what is known as the root-of-trust. This is the most rudimentary facet of any secure network having IoT and embedded devices.

These are the fundamental conditions for secure cloud connectivity for embedded systems. Therefore, development centered around these essentials is critical for the proliferation and safe use of IoT and embedded devices.