New ARM v8 Architecture for Microcontrollers

Nov. 11, 2015
ARM moves its TrustZone security into its ARMv8-M microcontroller architecture. This will help improve IoT security in the long run.

ARM’s TrustZone security has been key to its higher-end solutions like the Cortex-A series, but it is now part of the Cortex-M with the advent of the ARMv8-M microcontroller architecture (Fig. 1). The microcontroller version was announced at this year’s ARM TechCon conference in Santa Clara, Calif. The ARMv8-M architecture will prove very useful for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The ARMv8-M microcontroller architecture implements the 32-bit T32/Thumb instruction set. This remains intact, but now incorporates trusted hardware in the form of a protected memory and I/O systems built around TrustZone technology (Fig. 2). This includes hardware cryptography support and a true random number generator (TRNG) as well as secure boot support.

1. ARM’s TrustZone security support is now part of all of the ARM families, including the new ARMv8-M architecture.

The new architecture differs from the higher-end platforms because it is designed to provide low, deterministic latency support. It also does not provide hypervisor support found in platforms like the Cortex-A because that would also incur overhead that microcontroller applications cannot afford either in timing or hardware overhead.

The ARMv8-M architecture does provide access limits on memory, both flash and RAM, as well as access controls on peripherals and debug support. The TrustZone support also addresses firmware IP protection and secure remote firmware updates. The new AMBA 5 AHB5 specification includes support for TrustZone peripherals making it easy to build secure SoCs with custom peripherals.

2. The ARM TrustZone technology provides hardware cryptography and isolation support.

Support by the third-party community includes all major Cortex-M supporters, including operating system and tool companies like Green Hills Software, Micrium, Express Logic, Mentor Graphics, IAR Systems, Symantec, Trustonic, Segger, and FreeRTOS.

The implications of the ARMv8-M architecture for IoT are significant. It provides a common security architecture that will be adopted by the wide array of Cortex-M vendors. It is scalable from the Cortex-M0 to the Cortex-M7 (see “Cortex-M7 Contains Configurable Tightly Coupled Memory”). This will make it easier for developers to target the microcontroller space that has included a variety of proprietary security measures. 

About the Author

William G. Wong | Senior Content Director - Electronic Design and Microwaves & RF

I am Editor of Electronic Design focusing on embedded, software, and systems. As Senior Content Director, I also manage Microwaves & RF and I work with a great team of editors to provide engineers, programmers, developers and technical managers with interesting and useful articles and videos on a regular basis. Check out our free newsletters to see the latest content.

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I earned a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Masters in Computer Science from Rutgers University. I still do a bit of programming using everything from C and C++ to Rust and Ada/SPARK. I do a bit of PHP programming for Drupal websites. I have posted a few Drupal modules.  

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