Microsemi Inserts Man-in-the-Middle to Encrypt Boot-up
Security wonks talk about the “root of trust” for computer systems, and for good reason. If you can’t start from a known-good position, everything that happens afterwards is potentially suspect. Building castles on sand, and all that.
Since every computer and embedded system has to bootstrap itself from cold metal, the boot-up process is necessarily the root of all subsequent trust. If the boot ROM is compromised… well, there’s no telling what mischief may follow.
That’s the concept behind Microsemi’s new “secure boot reference design.” Lock down the bootstrapping process first, and you can then start building a secure system on top of it. A lot of companies have made token efforts to secure their respective processors’ firmware.
Assigning Blame After Accidents
In Britain a four-year-old boy was allowed to starve to death, and his body wasn’t found for two years. After his mother was sentenced to prison a few months ago, an inquiry was held into how the various local agencies and the police had dealt with the matter. I have no knowledge as to how competent the inquiry was, but when the report was published, it was violently attacked by the press and by government sources because no individual was blamed.
“So what has this to do with electronics?” I can hear you asking.
Sorry, It's Not What You're Thinking
There’s nothing like 10 hours in the air to help you get intimate with a piece of technology that you must stare in the face the entire time.
I’m talking, of course, about the screen in the back of the seat in front of you. I had two different experiences with two different screens on two different flights last week.
On the first one, my only observation was that the screen and light controls had been moved from the arm rest (where you are forever turning the damn thing back on by resting your arm on one of the buttons) to the screen. A good thing but for one problem: figuring out how to control stuff from the screen.
Turns out there was an innocuous little dot you push to bring up a menu. A dot was apparently the best they could do as an icon; heck, it wasn’t even obvious that it was there to be clicked. You HAD to read the instruction page to know how it worked.
Synopsys Announces a Sensor Subsystem
There’s a scramble afoot as sensor and silicon and software and system folks try to jockey over the best way to implement and integrate sensors into a broad range of devices. You’ve got:
- Folks making sensors
- Folks making micro-controllers that can run sensor-related software
- Folks integrating sensors and micro-controllers together
- Folks integrating multiple sensors together in a single package, possibly with a micro-controller as well
- System guys controlling sensors via the AP in an SoC
- System guys including a sensor hub of some sort in an SoC
Revival of an Old Technology
When doing your undergrad work in electrical engineering in college, you focus on what’s mainstream. If you’re studying semiconductors, that would mean silicon and CMOS. But you typically get exposed to exotic sideline things as well, just so that you know they’re there. And yes, occasionally they are on the final. Just to see if you were paying attention.
For me, one of those was silicon-on-sapphire (SOS). You’d see reference to it here and there, and it had great promise for… something fast. I didn’t pay much attention (I probably got that problem wrong on the final), and I never had need to pay closer attention once I got into the industry to do real work. At that time, the mainstream was bipolar, with CMOS coming on strong. ECL had some traction and was struggling to remain relevant. SOS figured nowhere in any of the things I was dealing with.
Microsemi Goes Mainstream
Microsemi’s FPGAs - going all the way back to the Actel days - had some interesting and compelling features and advantages. Because their logic fabric was created in flash, they could do certain things that “normal” SRAM-based FPGAs could not. They had very low power consumption, with almost no leakage. They were non-volatile, so you weren’t required to build extra configuration circuitry into your design. They were more immune than others to radiation effects such as single-event-upsets. And, they were comparatively secure - since one could eliminate the vulnerability of bitstream configuration from the final design.
“Wow!” (We would always think). “Those are some great features! But...”
That “but” usually revolved around the fact that Microsemi/Actel’s devices were small. You could take advantage of all those cool capabilities only if your logic needs were extremely modest. If you needed lots of LUTs, you were out of luck.
Ayla Networks Launches Kit
A few years ago I was meeting with a small wireless interconnect company called ZeroG Wireless, and the discussion included a vision of machines and devices and appliances and people interacting via this huge, messy, chaotic structure we refer to as the internet. And all of the vagaries and un-thought-through possibilities and the promise of things as-yet unimagined were neatly wrapped up in a succinct little phrase: the Internet of Things.
I loved how descriptive the term was; I hadn’t heard it before then, and it was a long time before I really heard it again, so I frankly thought they had come up with it. Well, I no longer think that, and, having just returned from the Sensors Expo, I can safely say that the Internet of Things was at the top of the agenda (above sensor fusion). It’s frickin’ everywhere.
Embedded Design Makes The World Go Round
In this week’s Fish Fry - we’re talking tools, we’re talking airplanes, and we’re talking watches. First, I’m chatting with Jim McElroy (Vice President of Marketing - LDRA) about where LDRA fits in the embedded tool landscape, what their compliance management system is all about, and how this compliance management system may help you get your next Mil/Aero design off the ground. Also this week, I’m checking out how Aldec’s new Spec-TRACER tool suite can help you navigate the twists and turns of your next DO-254 design and why you should check out a new Kickstarter campaign that is attempting to launch a brand new smart watch called The Agent.
Not As Easy As You Think
It’s simply getting from here to there. How hard can that be?
In fact, if it’s indoors, then things aren’t that far away, so that should be even easier, right?
Wrong. Indoor navigation is a bugaboo that’s got all kinds of folks scrambling to figure out how to get you to where you need to be.
As we’ve seen before, navigation outside uses a mix of technologies, but satellite systems figure prominently in the solution. Other technologies simply fill the gaps when the satellite signal is weak or blanks out for short periods of time. During such blackouts, IMUs and map-matching can do a reasonable job of keeping you going, and when the signal comes back again, we can zero out any accumulated errors and we’re back on track.
Fish Fry is treading on scary ground this week. Guard your children, hold your RTL close and your soldering gun even closer. We're talking ASIC design costs. I know many of you are cowering in fear at the slight mention of custom chip NRE costs, but my guest is Reid Wender (Triad Semiconductor) and we're chatting about how you can relinquish your mixed-signal ASIC design cost fears once and for all. Think of it as an NRE exorcism, sorta.