Memory Cards as Security Products in the IoT

June 1, 2020 Silvio Muschter, CEO, Swissbit AG

3D-NAND flash technology, where flash memory cells are layered vertically, is shaping up to be the optimum solution for memory cards destined for robust and secure industrial uses. While 2D-SLC-NAND (SLC being the fastest and most reliable 2D planar technology) has long been considered the perfect basis for robust, high-quality storage solutions, 3D-NAND technology is now making real advances.

Part of the recipe for success with these memory products is the development of firmware optimized to customer-specific requirements. This is significant as target markets have completely different requirements for products with 3D-NAND compared, for example, to consumer and IT markets. Now more than ever, the durability and reliability of storage media for applications in industry, telecommunications, automotive, or medical technology rely on smart firmware features.

 Memory cards in IoT-compatible form factors

Businesses engaged in ‘Embedded IoT’ solutions are emerging from those focused on ‘Security Products.’ One example is independent German flash memory producer Swissbit. Initially, its memory products were typically SD and microSD cards with integrated encryption software. It made mobile phones tamper-proof and provided data protection for police bodycams by using compliant memory modules.

 But it raised a bigger question: are these memory cards with a security solution or a security solution in the shape of memory cards? This simple shift in perspective creates a host of application opportunities for new ‘Embedded IoT’ businesses.

A current example is fiscalization. In Germany, for instance, all cash registers must be fitted with certified Technical Security Equipment (TSE) to provide tamper-proof recordings of cash register data. Traders were given a year to convert their point-of-sale equipment. With TSE available in straightforward USB stick, SD or microSD card formats, a secure fiscal memory solution is simple to implement and retrofit. Cash register manufacturers can integrate them into conventional or PC-based cash register systems – virtually every cash register is equipped with a USB, SD, or microSD interface.

Embedded IoT

These TSE solutions require integrated microcontrollers, NAND chips and crypto chips. However, sensors, wireless chips and antennas can also be embedded to offer additional machine communication features. Many applications require embedded systems with data and communication protection built in. The availability of modules in the shape of flash-memory gives applications and users an easy option.

Both modern and older machinery and systems generally feature a USB interface or an interface for memory cards. As a result, in addition to new systems designed with secure IoT built in, existing devices already in use can be secured using security memory. This advantage stands to accelerate the introduction of IoT solutions for industry as it finally enables the continuous protection of complete systems.

Increased digitalization needs reliable memory

The latest generation of flash memory and innovative security products for embedded IoT solutions, such as memory modules with integrated chips for authentication and data encryption, are ideally positioned to exploit a promising growth market. After all, digitalization is not the preserve of centralized IT systems; it’s also decentralized and taking place within the networking of devices (IoT). Therefore, data needs to be recorded, stored and securely transmitted between many different points.

Outside of the relatively protected environment of a data center, this could easily be subject to conditions that are hostile to electronics. The demand for industrial memory products for applications in industry, telecommunications, automotive technology (for example autonomous driving) and medical technology is only set to increase.

Increased networking need reliable security

The inevitable increase in networking of devices across the Internet of Things means a rise in the requirements for the protection of data and devices. In turn, that will increase demand for smart security products for embedded IoT solutions. It’s somewhat ironic that despite a widespread awareness of online risks, communication within the Internet of Things has so far been woefully under protected – and that applies to both Smart Home and Smart Factory applications.

Networking is one prominent feature of all Industry 4.0 concepts. Ultimately, smart production plants should be able to adapt automatically to new products or events, communicate data seamlessly between machines while simultaneously offering user-friendly remote maintenance and control functions. Yes, networking industrial plants and the independent communication between ‘Things’ offers huge opportunities. But it also brings new risks. What would happen if hackers or tampered systems were to gain control over robots or industrial plants? Or even power stations or chemical factories?

Counterfeit-proof ID for Things

Decentralized security considerations throw up this question: How does a ‘Thing’ know that the data or data queries received from another ‘Thing’ are correct, and that the source of a message is truly the system component that it claims to be? A secure element on memory media offers a solution. As an example, security memory media from Swissbit assigns a unique identity to applications and systems, giving each ‘Thing’ a counterfeit-proof ID. In this way, networked systems can be protected from misuse and ‘identity theft’.

In addition, data access can be deliberately restricted, boot media secured, or licenses and intellectual property protected. Smart cards, integrated onto memory cards, provide systems with non-cloneable identities. This transforms them into uniquely identifiable M2M communication participants that can authenticate themselves and send and receive cryptographically heavily secured data.

Data is already one of the world’s most valuable assets. It is the responsibility of system designers to store and protect this data reliably. The rapid escalation of the IoT only adds to this imperative. Memory solutions that combine technical expertise in cyber security with innovative, functional 3D packaging technologies can offer dependable and durable IoT solutions. The world expects nothing less.

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