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Enhance MCU performance, security with hardware accelerated crypto

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:identity theft? cryptographic processing? symmetric-key cryptography?

ARM processor manufacturers can develop low-level device drivers that program the hardware accelerators to perform the supported cryptographic algorithms and use OCF-Linux to abstract an API to higher-level applications such as OpenSSL.

OpenSSL in turn exposes the standard API for cryptography to end-user applications. This typical software stack is shown in figure 2. In fact, this hardware accelerated implementation can be precluded by a software-only implementation that makes it transparent to end user applications. OpenSSL contains software-only implementations of the various cryptographic algorithms, which as mentioned previously, run in the ARM and consume cycles.

Developers can therefore start by using OpenSSL and use its standard API to implement their end user applications; this would comprise the top two layers in the software stack in figure 4. Subsequently, by adding the OCF-Linux and ARM processor crypto module layers that leverage the silicon hardware accelerators, developers can migrate to a hardware-accelerated cryptographic implementation.

Note that such migration would be transparent to end user applications since they continue to use the same standard OpenSSL API, the only difference is that OpenSSL will now re-direct execution down to the OCF-Linux layer.

Figure 4: Example software stack for implementing cryptographic hardware acceleration using dedicated hardware accelerators in ARM processors.

Tests have demonstrated that hardware-based cryptographic acceleration of OpenSSL can lower the CPU utilization by as much as 50 percent. This has far reaching effects on the ARM core's processing bandwidth.

In fact, developers might contemplate utilizing this newfound processing headroom for enhancing the user experience with exciting application features that previously could not be supported.

Making a difference
Differentiating features or capabilities which make a product stand out in the marketplace can come from various sources. Top-notch cryptographic security protection might distinguish one system. Another might receive a lot of buzz for an enhanced user application or feature not found on competing products.

The hardware-based cryptographic acceleration on ARM processors makes both of these possibilities probable. In all likelihood, cryptographic algorithms will execute more effectively when they are processed by a hardware module dedicated to security rather than being processes as just another piece of software running on the system's main CPU.

Offloading the cryptographic processing from the ARM core also gives developers the processing headroom they need to create the next great enhancement the market is looking for. Both the user and the manufacturer end up as winners.

[1] "Network Security with OpenSSL," John Viega, Matt Messier, Pravir Chandra. O'Reilly Media, Inc., June 17, 2002

About the author
Carlos Betancourt is a Sitara ARM processor product marketing manager at Texas Instruments. He manages Sitara product lines with responsibilities that include marketing, external communications, new product definition and business development. He joined TI in 1999 and has had various roles in applications and systems engineering within TI's Wireless, Analog and Embedded Processing business units. Carlos received a B.S and M.S degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at El Paso.

Greg Turner is a member of the Applications Development team for Sitara ARM processor at Texas Instruments . He is responsible for the cryptographic applications that are part of the Sitara Software Development Kit (SDK). Since 2000, he has had various roles in software development for TI's Wireless and Embedded Processing business units. Greg received a B.S. and M.S degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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