Vault-IP Secures ALL Things

Inside Secure, February 2017

Who Needs Security?

As IoT enters the real world, concerns about security become more urgent. IoT application designers must consider the implications of security breaches and make sure that their devices offer enough protection to give customers peace of mind. A low-power, low-cost solution such as Inside Secure Vault-IP makes implementing basic security features easier, both on-chip and in the application software.


Convincing chip designers to implement security is challenging. No processor designer likes to add gates, which increase the overall die area and cost. Testing and validating security features can delay product shipments at a time when companies are racing to bring new ideas to market. Consumers today place little value on these features, allowing system vendors to ignore them.


But the cost of failing to implement security in today’s vulnerable devices may be much greater in the long term - and not just in dollars. Thieves could use a home’s own security cameras to inspect the property and then rob it when there is no one at home. A hacker who gains control of an automobile or medical device could cause potentially deadly consequences. When such serious breaches begin to happen, consumers will suddenly demand secure IoT devices. Companies that have already implemented robust security will then have an advantage.


Parsing IoT Threats 

Figure 1. Network security threats.


Hackers can gain network access at several different points along the way.


Attacks in connected devices can range from trivial to severe. A hacked smart light bulb or toy may cause minor inconveniences, but a network of compromised medical devices could threaten the health or even the life of patients. Hackers gain access through a variety of methods, including poorly implemented client security and man-in-the-middle attacks, as Figure 1 shows. Developers often focus on the added cost of implementing robust security, particularly when the price of a client IoT processor is under $1. But they should also focus on how a breach could damage their reputation and bottom-line.


Network complexity also gives hackers the opportunity to gain access. IoT consists of more than devices at the end points: as Figure 1 shows, the client device starts the data path, which passes through gateways, communications networks, routers, and finally the cloud. Security breaches can happen anywhere along this path.

Client-side security frequently remains a work-in-progress, since IoT consists of many emerging platforms.


The ecosystem of IoT developers typically includes many start-ups and smaller OEMs, often working on their first projects. Security must be easy to implement and built-in, since these smaller developers lack the time and resources to build their own security. Integrating this function in the SoC enables developers to more easily implement it.

Inside Secure’s Vault-IP(TM) family gives System-on-Chip designers a tool to effectively secure connected devices. The family consists of intellectual property (IP) cores that customers can add to chip designs, plus software tools based on proven cryptographic standards. The IP includes fixed-function cryptographic accelerators, secure lockboxes for key storage, secure policy-based key usage, and secure-boot capability. It ships in three flavors targeting different security features and available die areas.


Consumer applications such as connected toys often require cost-optimized security features. These products run fixed code as opposed to multiple downloadable applications. Peer-to-peer connections and over-the-air updates are uncommon. They use tiny microcontrollers and typically transfer small amounts of data, making them ideal candidates for the Vault-IP-120.


Primarily designed for secure device authentication and secure boot, Vault-IP-120 is the smallest member of the Vault-IP family. With its very low gate count, it is a perfect match for tiny battery-powered devices requiring ultra-low power consumption and hardware Roots-of-Trust. With its embedded DMA, Vault-IP-120 offloads the main CPU from AES and ECDSA operations, allowing a faster transition to sleep mode.

Figure 2. Vault-IP-120 block diagram
Vault-IP-120, a lightweight platform protections core, offering NVM interface, TRNG, RSA, ECC, AES, SHA-256, targeting single core closed designs


Providing FIPS certified solution with Vault-IP-130


If you want to integrate a certified secure solution, Inside Secure recommends the Vault-IP-130. The 130 performs software-integrity checks on signed code to ensure any executed code is valid; it also has a FIPS-certified TRNG for generating keys and offers legacy crypto like 3DES and SHA-1.


Originally developed for mobile application processors, this security module is ideally-suited to be integrated in SoCs featuring a TEE (Trusted Execution Environment) and provides hardware Roots-of-Trust. At its heart, the Vault-IP Asset Manager secretly generates keys and securely stores them. Fully featured, its cryptographic data plane associated to its high speed DMA offloads the main CPU while never exposing keys or other valuable assets to the OS or the applications. Inside Secure also builds in power management, so the accelerators and other functional units will sleep when they’re unneeded, consuming little power.


In addition, the Vault-IP-130 has achieved the rigorous FIPS 140-2 Level 2 certification, the first for a silicon-IP provider. This certification means that chipmakers only need to apply for an incremental certification rather than going through a full FIPS process, greatly reducing time to market.        

Vault-IP-130 provides extended functions and offers NVM interface, TRNG, RSA, ECC, AES, 3DES, SHA-1, SHA-256, SHA-512. It targets multicore trustzone and non-trustzone designs. Vault-IP-130 is also the very first Level 2 FIPS 140-2 certificate (#2272) for an IP component. 


Finally at the high-end, we can find Vault-IP-140, which retains all the properties of Vault-IP-130 with extended cryptographic capabilities using additional hardware engines; this accelerates adoption of recently-emerged popular standards. Vault-IP-140 supports ChaCha20 and Poly1305 algorithms, including the combined AEAD mode, the support of X25519 key exchange and EdDSA signatures (Curve25519).


All Vault-IP versions connect with application processors via standard AMBA interfaces like AHB or AXI.

Figure 3. Vault-IP-140 block diagram.

Vault-IP-140, providing additional algorithms on top of Vault-IP-130, such as Poly1305 and ChaCha20, targeting HomeKit and other IoT ecosystems


Vault-IP can work with any existing CPU architecture to create a secure IoT processor. The chip boots from secure on-chip ROM, which houses keys linked to that specific chip. It obtains a digitally signed and optionally encrypted version of the application from flash memory, and validates it using Vault-IP’s hardware integrity and authentication functions (ECDSA and SHA-256). The IP stores and uses the cryptographic keys, which are never exposed outside of this protected boundary. If Vault-IP detects no errors, the application is moved to RAM, where it can run normally. Inside Secure provides these secure boot components as library elements called SafeZone.


Vault-IP licensees get Verilog RTL libraries, embedded firmware, drivers, development kit, verification environment, test vectors and middleware to secure the platform boot and connect the subsystem to the rest of the SoC.

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