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ARM launches Trustonic joint security venture

UK semiconductor design giant ARM has announced a new joint venture aimed at fortifying security across smartphone and tablet environments.

Based in part on ARM's existing TrustZone technology, Trustonic is endeavouring to create a new security standard that can be programmed directly into hardware, thereby existing outside of a device's operating system in an "invisible area" theoretically immune to viruses, malware, and other bits of malicious software.

The project is provisionally being aimed at providing at banks, enterprises and other ventures who need an ultra-reliable security standard to protect vital services like mobile payments and money transfers. In a more commercial vein, it could also be used to safeguard Internet shopping transactions.

"Risk is hindering the user experience. We have grown up in an era of the PC, which has huge power, but we have a problem. The capabilities of the PC are exploited as much by malicious parties as by benevolent ones," said Ben Cade, Trustonic's CEO and a former ARM vice-president.

"We've got to build some [guarantee of] trust into devices," he added.

Partnering ARM in the endeavour are Dutch firm Gemalto and German company Giesecke & Devrient (G&D). Together, the three businesses are pumping "tens of millions of dollars" into the initiative, which should result in the merging of ARM's Trustzone tech with Gemalto and G&D's rival Trust Execution Environment product. The hope is that the unification will lead to a new model that can be adopted as a default security system across a range of smart and connected devices.

Moreover, the Trustonic venture will see ARM engaging with design rival Intel on a new level, with early speculation indicating that if it is successful, it will be floated fairly early on its existence. In addition to the involvement of Gemelto and G&D, Trustonic has secured a number of blue-chip backers, including MasterCard, Cisco, and Samsung.

News of a potentially improved, hardware-based security solution for smartphones and other mobile devices will no doubt be welcomed by handset users, as viruses are now rife across Android and other popular operating systems.

In 2010, chief competitor Intel purchased software firm McAfee and unveiled its silicon-level security system, dubbed DeepSafe.