February 23, 2022

Azure Sphere

IOT (Internet of Things) is growing in the market rapidly. It is basically a connection between things i.e. lights, AC, washing machine etc. with the internet and making them smart. You can now control all your home appliances or industry machines from your smartphone. But the connection between all the devices and the internet is secure? We will try to answer this question in this article.

IOT has been a huge hit in the tech industry for a couple of years now, but what’s mostly blocking the growth is lack of security among devices and attacks that can be fatal. Now million of devices are connected to the cloud. But what happens if the control of all these devices lands into the wrong hands. See below examples regarding things which are in our daily use.

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Let’s talk about a smart refrigerator. The great experience is that the smart refrigerator monitors your maintenance, keeps your device running well but imagine you come home one day and you have a text message on your phone which says we own your fridge, pay us five dollars in bit coin or all the ice cream melts. Unhappy kids! Your fridge is no longer your own. And what about a smart stove that can be blown up by a terrorist hacker.

In 2017 at a Las Vegas casino hacker get control of sensitive data just by using an internet connected fish tank and steal sensitive data. Mostly the attackers exploit those insecure devices which are connected to the public internet. In internet of things security is the afterthought in the scheme, which can lead to unforeseen circumstances. 

For all these kind of problems now Microsoft is providing a solution for security known as Azure Sphere.

To ensure that security is an integral part of the connected solution, Microsoft has taken the lead in building an end-to-end platform built from the ground up. Branded as Azure Sphere, the solution has three components - a secure system-on-chip (SoC) device, a secure operating system, and a secure cloud service. We will discuss these three main pillars in depth in the last section of this article.

Why People Love Azure Sphere

Microsoft introduced Azure Sphere in May 2018. In the world of IoT Azure Sphere became a hit in a very less time because of its properties.

Microsoft Azure Sphere raise the bar of security in our interconnected world of technology. Microsoft is putting a mark out there that following are the minimum set of properties that any connected device should have.

Hardware-based root of trust

This guarantees that a device is running only genuine, up-to-date software before it can connect to the rest of the internet.

Defense in depth

More layers of defense make it harder for an attacker to gain access to a device’s most sensitive secrets. More sensitive areas are put behind greater layers of defense.

Small Trusted Computing Base

A trusted computing base should be kept as small as possible to minimize the surface that’s exposed to attackers and to reduce the probability that a bug or feature can be used to compromise it.

Dynamic Compartmentalization

Boundaries between software components can prevent a breach in one component from propagating to others. Dynamic boundaries can be moved and redrawn safely.

Certificate-based Authentication

Passwords can be the weakest link in many security systems. Certificate-based authentication eliminates the need for passwords to manage a device.

Online Failure Reporting or Error Reporting

Early detection, analysis, and response to errors is critical to stopping threats before they cause significant damage.

Renewable Security

The ability to deploy ongoing software updates is essential to tightening a device’s defenses and shutting down vulnerabilities.

Azure Sphere is a new generation of micro-controller with built-in security these microcontrollers are designed to replace the MCU (General Purpose Microcontroller) which are used in most of the connected devices. General Purpose Microcontroller basically does not guarantee the security required by the connected device. Azure Sphere is a hardware device with an embedded crossover microcontroller unit. The hardware design ensures that each subsystem of the chip is securely isolated from each other. Microsoft developed an operating system for it, based on Linux. Goal is to develop a new generation of Internet of things, which are secure and tamper-proof. Those will be able to communicate with cloud services securely. Every smart device, like your toy, fridge, washing machine, all will secure under cloud computing system.

Microsoft Azure Sphere is a new solution for creating highly secured internet connected micro controller devices. Azure sphere is all about end-to-end IOT security. It’s an end-to-end platform to secure everyday IOT devices.

It’s not just about the piece of hardware; a little tiny device, there is a lot more behind it. It’s about taking all Microsoft’s experience in building secure hardware platforms and blending it with Microsoft’s experience of building operating systems and cloud platforms.

Pillars of Azure Sphere

Secured MCU

Let’s start with micro-controller. When I think about a micro-controller, I think about the word pervasive computing. Micro-controllers are everywhere; in your home, in your office, in your hotel. They make up the fabric of computing that you can never see. It has a screen, it has a button, and it has a micro controller in it. There are nine billion micro controllers sold every year. It’s a massive number and it’s a whole ecosystem that a lot of people just aren’t even familiar with. But the interesting fact is that less than 1% micro controllers are connected today. Why is that? Because when you connect devices, bammm! Spams and viruses everywhere! As we saw in 2016, Mirai botnet. It brought US to its knees. Roughly 100,000 compromised IOT devices were repurposed by the hackers into a botnet that effectively knocked US.

Azure Sphere MCUs meets the minimum requirement laid out by Microsoft and they have security IP. Microsoft is licensing free to any silicon manufacturer that wants to produce an azure sphere certified chip.

Secured OS

Microsoft has created an operating system with the Linux kernel in order to achieve their highly secured OS they have been bragging about. It’s called Azure Sphere OS. Sphere OS is just one of three-part solutions of Microsoft azure sphere. This operating system is created by Microsoft and maintained by Microsoft. The Azure Sphere OS, a highly secured OS from Microsoft, creates a trustworthy defense and depth platform for wide experiences. A custom Linux Kernel enables Silicon diversity and innovation.

  • Secured application container
  • On-ship cloud services
  • Security Pico visor

Cloud Security

Security service is what brokers trust between device to device and device to cloud interaction. Azure Sphere provides:

  • Software updates
  • Detection of emerging threats
  • Certificate-based brokering of trust

Their goal is really to enable us to create internet of things devices fast and ready for production purposes. So, we don’t have to worry about security and can focus on profits.

I support what Microsoft is doing here; not only using the Linux kernel to build their new operating system but also to create a secure and powerful operating system to control IOT devices.

Fortune companies Using Azure Sphere

Because of this fool proof security many fortune companies announced to use Azure sphere in their up coming projects. Qualcomm has announced that it will be using Azure Sphere to secure 5G connectivity. NXP also creating an Azure sphere certified crossover application processor.

Microsoft has created tools and SDK to empower engineers to begin with Azure Sphere. Engineers can utilize a Windows or a Linux machine to build secure IoT applications running on Azure Sphere.

With Azure Sphere, Microsoft has started to lead in end-to-end layers of security IoT devices. Azure sphere created new opportunities for Chip Manufacturer to OEMs to system integrators.

Azure Sphere VS Google Cloud IoT

Pricing for Azure Sphere

Azure Sphere is the simple and moderate approach to build devices that are inherently secure and persistently reacts to rising threats and keeping devices secure over the long term. As we discussed above the solution contain 3 components and they all are sold together.

  • Azure Sphere certified MCU
  • Azure Sphere OS
  • Azure Sphere Security Service

Microsoft introduced first Azure Sphere certified MCU, the MT3620AN

Chip Pricing

  • Cost of Chip MT3620AN is less than $9 and you will get OS and security service updates till July 2031

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(Last Updated On: February 23, 2022)

Last Updated 4 months ago

About the Author

With a Master’s degree in Information System’s from Griffith University, Awais took up technology to explore his passion for cloud computing and IT security. He has a love for challenges and is fervent about his work.

Awais Khalid

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