ARM Boosts IoT Security With New Chips, Cloud Platform

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As the US deals with the aftermath of last week's major cyberattack, the company that makes many of the chips embedded in the IoT devices used in the attack unveiled a new product intended to boost their security.

Called Mbed Cloud, it is the first software-as-a-service offering from ARM, the British chip maker whose designs are present in a vast array of devices, from Rokus and Fitbits to 99 percent of the world's tablets and smartphones.

Many ARM-powered devices are already connected to cloud infrastructure, of course, and ARM offers advanced hardware and software security for its chips. But Mbed Cloud provides device manufacturers a crucial new tool: over-the-air software updates. That means consumers won't have to worry about whether or not their baby monitors have the latest firmware to guard against threats. It will simply be delivered automatically.

It is an appropriate—albeit ominous—time for ARM to branch out into cloud security. Until recently, its cloud offerings have been limited, but it is now marketing Mbed Cloud to companies that make wearables, smart city infrastructure, and smart home devices like lights, thermostats, and baby monitors. The company says it has 200,000 developers building products compatible with Mbed.

Those products have exploded in popularity in recent years, and many of them—especially Internet-connected video cameras—were compromised and used in a massive attack that took Netflix, Twitter, and many other websites offline last week. Xiongmai, the Chinese firm that made many of the cameras, recalled them this week after they were identified as aiding the Web attack.

It's unclear how much of a role over-the-air firmware updates could play in preventing such attacks, which often gain access and control the devices simply by using a publicly available database of manufacturers' default usernames and passwords. What is clear is that ARM, which sells 25 times more chips than Intel does, wants to take greater responsibility for the security of the vast Internet of things that it already powers.

"As IoT technologies become more pervasive, it is time for a complete solution that secures data from the sensor to the service," ARM VP Pete Hutton said in a statement. "The IoT already runs on ARM but the goal now is scale, which we are enabling today through a uniquely comprehensive set of technologies and services built to work together seamlessly."

In addition to Mbed Cloud, the company also announced new chips for IoT devices at its developers conference in Santa Clara, Calif., on Tuesday. They include the Cortex M-23, which is smaller than the point of a pencil and can be powered by kinetic energy, such as that released when a user takes the cap off of an insulin pen.

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