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iPhone redefines embedded software security

Posted: 18 Mar 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Apple iPhone? Microsoft CE? embedded software security?

Apple Inc.'s iPhone and Microsoft CE-based devices are upping the ante for security software in embedded systems, according to experts presenting at next month's Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) Wireless conference.

Embedded security software has become essential to these open-system-based mobile devices, as they grapple with traditional security in addition to new concerns, such as providing a safe execution environment for third-party applications. Once handled by in-house programmers, mobile-device makers are now turning to security software companies to provide these multilevel safety nets for personal data, digital rights management and authentication tasks.

"We are increasingly signing up mobile-device makersand flash memory devices makers, toowho, until now, did their own security software," said Gal Salomon, CEO of Discretix Inc. "Devices like Apple's iPhone, and, to a certain extent, Microsoft's CE, have redefined the whole market, since they use an open operating system where third parties can develop applications on what used to just be a telephone with a closed, real-time operating system."

At CTIA Wireless, Discretix will be displaying its secure software environment running on Texas Instrument Inc.'s OMAP application processors. Discretix claims a 32 percent market share in embedded security software, and according to Gartner-Dataquest is in second place behind Safenet Inc. Discretixwhich was founded in 2000 and is backed by $30 million in venture capital from Accel Partners and Sequoia Capitalprovides embedded security solutions for device makers and chipset makers, including Infineon, Motorola, NXP, Renesas Technology, SanDisk, Sony Ericsson, Spansion and TI.

The Discretix business model includes both IP licensing of security hardware acceleration blocks to chip setmakers, as well as providing embedded security software to mobile-device manufacturers on a royalty-per-unit basis.

"We prefer to sell software to device makers, but we don't always have the opportunity, because hardware-based security is always better security, especially since most devices do not have the MIPS [million instructions per second] to provide their own security, and thus require a security coprocessor," said Salomon.

Besides security software for embedded systems that must manage copy-protected content, Discretix, Safenet and others, such as Mocana Corp., are now being asked by mobile-device makers to supply safe operating environments in addition to all the bits and pieces necessary to secure that transactions can be safely handled by open-system mobile devices.

"When a new application is written for a device like the iPhone, it has to run in a secure execution environment that does not affect the phone or other applications," said Salomon. "We are now being asked to provide these secure execution environments, as well as provide the algorithms to deal with all the different sorts of multimedia content that different applications use."

As a result, security software vendors are experiencing a transition from closed RTOS to open OS, which is driving an increasing thirst in mobile device makers to include more advanced forms of security. Security software is also penetrating the flash memory device market, according to Salomon, because flash cards are now being used as authentication devices, complete with biometric fingerprint readers, which can, for instance, securely transport a person's medical records.

At the CTIA Wireless conference, the expanding role of security software in mobile devices will be discussed in a track titled: "Addressing Network Security in the Era of Open Access & Fully Functional Mobile Multimedia Devices," which will take place April 2 in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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