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Creating secure systems to power the IoT

A new guidance paper from the prpl Foundation, Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Embedded Computing, has been released that describes how to create secure embedded systems that power connected devices.

By forging what it calls a root of trust at the hardware layer and leveraging hardware virtualisation to create two distinct, secure domains- lateral movement attacks within the system will be dramatically reduced according to the foundation.

President of the prpl Foundation, Art Swift contends that the problem with embedded systems as it stands today is the piecemeal and often proprietary nature when it comes to securing them.

“Given ubiquitous connectivity and the rapid emergence of IoT, the need for a well-designed, structured and comprehensive security architecture has never been greater.”

“Under the prpl Foundation, chip, system and service providers can come together on a common platform, architecture, APIs and standards, and benefit from a common and more secure open source approach,” added the prpl Foundation’s chief security strategist, Cesare Garlati.

The guidance has been peer reviewed by some of the top names in the industry. For instance, David Lingenfelter, Information Security Officer, IBM Security Systems and Co-Chair Mobile Group at Cloud Security Alliance said it is a “great paper, very well laid out and easy to read and comprehend. Focus is around constructing the hardware and virtual layers of the endpoints to be designed properly to limit exposure should they come under attack. The four types of IoT systems mentioned in this paper (auto, medical, weapons, and airlines) can all have very personal ramifications to an individual’s health if something should go wrong.”

The paper addresses three major areas from a manufacturing, development and service provider standpoint:

Fundamental controls for securing devices: The core requirement, according to the document, is a trusted operating environment enabled via a secure boot process that is impervious to attack. This requires a root of trust forged in hardware, which establishes a chain of trust for all subsystems.

Security by Separation: The document focuses on embedded systems that can retain their security attributes even when connected to open networks. It is based on the use of logical separation created by hardware-enforced virtualisation, and also supports technologies such as para-virtualisation, hybrid virtualisation and other methods.

Secure development and testing: Developers must provide an infrastructure that enables secure debug during product development and testing. Rather than allowing users to see an entire system while conducting hardware debug, the document proposes a secure system to maintain the separation of assets.

More information can be found at

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