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Securing next-gen set-top boxes

Posted: 16 Aug 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Richard Lucquet? Micronas USA? communications? spotlight? security?

As the world market for IP-STBs grows, engineers are making design choices for next-generation IP-STBs. As a dedicated entertainment device sitting at the nexus of high-definition TVs and a dizzying array of broadcast, satellite, broadband, home network and other free and premium content sources, IP-STBs will play a central role in the content's decoding, distribution and protection.

Given the array of content sources, such as free-to-air broadcasts, cable and telco service providers, PCs, network-attached storage (NAS) devices and more, IP-STBs must support a variety of advanced codecs. STBs must support not only legacy-content playback. As service providers seek to deliver more high-definition channels and revenue-generating services over limited bandwidth, it should also support advanced codecs such as H.264 and VC-1.

The winning design for IP-STBs will also support Digital Living Network Alliance guidelinesincluding seamless connectivity to any consumer device, PC and network-attached storageto create a home entertainment network. This will require auto-device discovery protocol support, including uPnP and PlaysForSure. Consumers should never have to enter a network address or subnet mask as part of the setup procedure. In addition, IP-STBs must seamlessly transmit and receive encrypted digital content using IP streaming protocols.

But of all the requirements for next-gen STBs, security is the cornerstone requirement for premium content. Content protection comprises both content access (encryption and authorization) and digital rights management (DRM). But the security landscape is in flux, with no clear winners or standards. Hence, a number of content-protection schemes both current and future need to be supported.

The many approaches to DRM exacerbate the situation. While Microsoft's Windows Media DRM seems the current favorite, many popular DRM methodologies from NDS, Irdeto, SecureMedia, Verimatrix, Widevine and others are available.

Content providers will continue to use multiple security technologies to deliver premium content. Given this uncertainty, IP-STBs must be flexible to support multiple content access and DRM strategies today, and also be field-upgradable to adapt to future standards.

To support these requirements and maximize system performance, IP-STBs can use an embedded security subsystem with a secure, dedicated processor for programmability, key and session management, and hardware acceleration for critical cryptographic functions such as 3/DES, AES and Microsoft Block Cipher, among others. Single-chip content processors provide these security subsystems, but they're not all created equal. Be sure they meet current and future application requirements. Beware of any security subsystems lacking programmability, hardwired for specific content protection methods and unable to adapt to future needs.

- Richard Lucquet
Systems Application Group Director, Micronas USA




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