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MT3620 Runs Azure Sphere for IoT

May 29, 2018

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Operating systems commonly target a specific processor architecture, but rarely do they dictate a specific chip design. Microsoft has more clout than most vendors, however, and its new Azure Sphere OS for IoT has special requirements that demand a custom hardware design. MediaTek’s MT3620, currently sampling, is the first to meet these requirements, although we expect other processor vendors will follow.

The MT3620 is an unusually powerful SoC for high-end IoT devices that employ Wi-Fi. It dedicates four 32-bit Arm CPUs and a 32-bit Andes CPU to various tasks, including a dual-band RF subsystem. But its secret sauce is a Microsoft security engine, code-named Pluton, licensed to MediaTek as embedded intellectual property (IP). Pluton has cryptography accelerators and a hardware-based root of trust—crucial elements for secure boot and authenticated firmware updates. The chip also has three one-time-programmable (OTP) memories for storing crypto keys and other security essentials.

Azure Sphere is Microsoft’s attempt to bring a secure OS and cloud-based maintenance service to the IoT market. Although it’s built on an open-source Linux kernel, the OS is proprietary, as is the Pluton IP it requires.

By themselves, the hardware and software components of Azure Sphere look ordinary. Other recently introduced IoT processors also have secure bootloaders and the ability to authenticate over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates. They have similar crypto acceleration and root-of-trust hardware. Likewise, other vendors offer embedded operating systems with similar security features. In addition, companies such as Arm, Inside Secure, and Rambus offer security IP and secure software-update services. Azure Sphere’s uniqueness is tighter hardware/software integration. By running the OS only on certified processors containing Microsoft’s own security IP, the platform should be able to close more chinks in the armor, giving users more peace of mind.

Subscribers can view the full article in the Microprocessor Report.

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