Texas teams up with ARM to tackle mobile phone chip security

Texas Instruments will build a security platform from UK chip designer ARM Holdings into its next-generation mobile processors,...

Texas Instruments will build a security platform from UK chip designer ARM Holdings into its next-generation mobile processors, in the latest move to head off the threat of worms and hackers on smartphones and PDAs.

The collaboration between Texas Instruments and ARM follows the introduction of hardware-based security in Intel's next-generation XScale handheld chips, and the recent discovery of the first mobile phone virus.

ARM's hardware security platform, called TrustZone, has the potential to become a widespread standard since ARM's processor cores power most mobile phones and newer handheld computers.

The increasing sophistication of mobile phones is opening the way to the types of problems already plaguing internet-connected PCs, according to industry observers - with the difference that a virus-induced wireless network outage could potentially be much more serious than a crashed PC.

"As devices become more powerful and capable of executing a wider range of functions and applications, the need for security increases," said John Cornish, director of product marketing at ARM.

"For a large wireless network, a virus sweeping across clients and causing a disruption would have an enormous cost for the network operator and for the customers."

Other major security issues include handset theft and content piracy, he added.

For the solution, mobile chipmakers are turning to hardware-based security, a concept pioneered in the PC world with Microsoft's Next Generation Secure Code Base (NGSCB), formerly known as Palladium.

Schemes put forward by Intel, the Open Mobile Alliance, Texas Instruments and ARM all create a protected portion of memory separated from the rest of the processor, where applications can be verified and then run securely.

"It creates a sandbox isolated from the other software, and prevents the possibility of interference between the two areas," said Cornish.

Texas Instruments will integrate ARM's take on hardware security, called TrustZone, into its OMAP family of mobile processors by licensing ARM's ARM1176JZF-S core, one of two cores that currently include TrustZone, Texas Instruments said.

Texas Instruments has been using its own hardware security features in OMAP for the past year and a half, but TrustZone will extend what the chips can do, and will also potentially offer a standardised way for software makers to hook into hardware security. The features can be extended into peripherals and external memory, ARM said.

Key will be getting other chipmakers, software makers and content providers to sign up for TrustZone.

"Because of the strength of the ARM architecture, we're able to work with other third parties at a very early stage, because it know this technology will be deployed in a lot of devices over the next couple of years," said Cornish.

He said the 1176JZ-S and 1176JZF-S cores, which both incorporate TrustZone, are becoming the processor of choice for next-generation mobile devices.

Most major mobile chipmakers, including Intel, Motorola and Texas Instruments, license ARM cores as an alternative to carrying out their own costly research and development work. Newer Palm and Pocket PC handhelds both rely on ARM-based chips. The first TrustZone-enabled OMAP chips are expected to appear in another 18 to 24 months.

Matthew Broersma writes for Techworld.com

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