As we drive towards a connected world, where everything connects to the internet, we are witnessing more security nightmares as well. There are millions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices which remain online permanently bur hardly get any maintenance. With these devices becoming a gateway to our homes, workplaces, and sensitive data, they also become targets for attacks. Microsoft has announced a solution for it: Azure Sphere.
Azure Sphere is a new Linux-based operating system developed by Microsoft, yes you heard that right, with a focus to bring better security to IoT gadgets. The OS consists of three components, Azure Sphere certified microcontrollers (MCUs), Azure Sphere OS and Azure Sphere Security Service.
Every IoT device consists of a tiny chip, called an MCU, which functions as the brain of the device, hosting the compute, storage, memory, and an OS on the device. With Azure Sphere, Microsoft promises to deliver a new cross-over class of MCUs that combines both real-time and application processors with built-in Microsoft security technology and connectivity. The new MCUs support seven critical hardware features that Microsoft says are necessary to build a highly secure device.
The MCUs include Microsoft-designed silicon. The company plans to license the MCU designs to chip makers royalty-free. MediaTek will be the first company to ship a device with an Azure Sphere chip. The MT3620 processor featuring a 500 MHz ARM Cortex-A7 application processor and two ARM Cortex-M4F subsystems is expected to hit the market by the end of the year.
The second component of the Azure Sphere is the Linux-based OS, making it Microsoft's first ever Linux distribution. The OS combines a custom Linux kernel with Windows-inspired security features, providing a secure platform that scales down to smaller systems than Windows can reach. Built to offer unequaled security and agility, the defense-in-depth IoT OS offers multiple layers of security, the company claims. Microsoft will have a custom security monitor running beneath the Linux kernel to protect system integrity.
The last part of the new security solution by Microsoft is the cloud-based Azure Sphere Security Service. It is aimed to detect security issues by recognizing failures and errors on devices and renewing security through software updates.
Though Microsoft already has a Windows 10 IoT Core SKU, the company clearly wants to release something that’s compatible with a lot of existing IoT devices, and which developers will be able to adapt to quickly. Azure Sphere is currently in private preview. The company is working with select manufacturers for the first lot of the Azure Sphere powered devices, expected to hit the market by the end of 2018. Dev kits will be universally available in mid-2018.