Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Meet Trustonic, a New Approach to Mobile Security

trustonic-featureOne of the more vexing problems yet to be fully solved with the shift to mobile computing is security. As consumers and corporate users move away from using PCs and more toward smartphones and tablets for banking and commerce, the need to secure those devices and what’s done on them becomes a bigger concern than before.

Today, a new company called Trustonic launched with backing from ARM (the British chip company whose designs power most of the world’s mobile devices), Gemalto and Germany’s Giesecke & Devrient.

The basic idea is to provide security at the chip level, separate from the operating system on a device. Such chips will provide a Trusted Execution Environment that can be used to store account information, passwords and other sensitive information, making it easier to use and access from a mobile device.

It’s based on an ARM technology called TrustZone, and enhanced by software developed by Gemalto and Giesecke & Devrient. The hope is to create a platform that device manufacturers can build into future smartphones and tablets. Trustonic’s approach will be to license the technology to chipmakers, support companies who build phones and tablets while also enabling service providers to turn on services that take advantage of it for which they can charge additional fees.

Ben Cade, Trustonic’s CEO, said that ARM, Gemalto and Giesecke & Devrient had collectively poured “tens of millions” into the joint venture, but declined to specify how much. ARM owns 40 percent of the company while the other two will control 30 percent each. It will be based in the U.K.

Naturally, Trustonic — since it hails from ARM’s camp — will have an easy introduction to most of the companies involved with the mobile phone and tablet universe. But the question will be whether the kinds of experiences the technology enables not only get the job done, but whether or not they make users happy.

There’s also the question of adding additional parts to the mix. Generally speaking, most chips inside a phone or tablet over time get mushed together so they can be made less expensively. Anything that added to the bill of materials — the combined cost of all the components inside a device — will have to be offset by a perceived increase in value.

That might seem easy at first when it comes to security, but by and large consumers say they put a high value on security but rarely act that way. More often than not people create easy passwords, and are lax about changing them. We’ll see if this new approach makes a difference.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work