Atmel, IoT and CryptoAuthentication

Atmel, IoT and CryptoAuthentication
by Paul McLellan on 11-19-2014 at 7:00 am

One of the companies that is best positioned to supply components into the IoT market is Atmel. For the time being most designs will be done using standard components, not doing massive integration on an SoC targeted at a specific market. The biggest issue in the early stage of market development will be working out what the customer wants and so the big premium will be on getting to market early and iterating fast, not premature cost optimization for a market that might not be big enough to support the design/NRE of a custom design.

Atmel has microcontrollers, literally over 500 different flavors and in two families, the AVR family and a broad selection of ARM microcontrollers/processors. They have wireless connectivity. They have strong solutions in security.

Indeed last week at Electronica in Germany they announced the latest product in the SmartConnect family, the SAM W2 module. It is the industry’s first fully-integrated FCC-certified Wi-Fi module with a standalone MCU and hardware security from a single source. The module is tiny, not much larger than a penny. The module includes Atmel’s recently-announced 2.4GHz IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi WINC1500, along with an Atmel | SMART SAM D21 ARM Cortex M0+-based MCU and Atmel’s ATECC108A optimized CryptoAuthentication engine with ultra-secure hardware-based key storage for secure connectivity.


That last item is a key component for many IoT designs. Security is going to be a big thing and with so many well-publicized breaches of software security, the algorithms, and particularly the keys, are moving quickly into hardware. That component, the ATECC108A, provides state-of-the-art hardware security including a full turnkey Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) engine using key sizes of 256 or 283 bits – appropriate for modern security environments without the long computation delay typical of software solutions. Access to the device is through a standard I²C Interface at speeds up to 1Mb/sec. It is compatible with standard Serial EEPROM I²C Interface specifications. Compared to software, the device is:

  • higher performance (faster encryption)
  • lower power
  • much harder to compromise

Atmel have a new white paper out, Integrating the Internet of Things, Necessary Building Blocks for Broad Market Adoption. Depending on whose numbers you believe, there will be 50 billion IoT edge devices connected by 2020.


As it says in the white paper:On first inspection, the requirements of an IoT edge device appear to be much the same as any other microcontroller (MCU) based development project. You have one or more sensors that are read by an MCU, the data may then be processed locally prior to sending it off to another application or causing another event to occur such as turning on a motor. However, there are decisions to be made regarding how to communicate with these other applications. Wired, wireless, and power line communication (PLC) are the usual options. But, then you have to consider that many IoT devices are going to be battery powered, which means that their power consumption needs to be kept as low as possible to prolong battery life. The complexities deepen when you consider the security implications of a connected device as well. And that’s not just security of data being transferred, but also ensuring your device can’t be cloned and that it does not allow unauthorized applications to run on it.


For almost any application the building blocks for an IoT edge node are the same:

  • Embedded processing
  • Sensors
  • Connectivity
  • Security
  • and while not really a building block, ultra low power especially for always-on applications

My view is that the biggest of these issues will be security. After all, even though Atmel has hundreds of different microcontrollers and microprocessors, there are plenty of other suppliers. Same goes for connectivity solutions. But strong cryptographhic solutions implemented in hardware are much less common.

The new IoT white paper is available for download here.


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