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HCL Technologies

Secure Firmware Upgrade System

Secure Firmware Upgrade System

IEEE Standard Glossary of Software Engineering Terminology, std 610.12-1990, defines Firmware as follows: “The combination of hardware device and computer instructions and data that resides as read-only software on that device.”  Even though Firmware is designed as Read-only component, Firmware Upgrades are required to correct bugs and add new functionalities. The ability to upgrade Firmware is considered an important feature for embedded systems, particularly the ones that are connected to the Internet.  It becomes even more important when the devices are deployed in remote locations. In such cases somebody has to go there and update the system, generally the OEMs don’t get paid for updates, why would they incur this extra cost? A cost effective solution is to have a Remote Firmware Upgrade. But, it has its own share of problems - what if the system gets a wrong image and the system becomes unusable, it is even worse if the attacker adds a malware to the image, then the whole network at the client side will go for a toss.

To overcome these problems device manufacturers are opting for Secure Firmware Upgrade, where the upgrades are first authenticated and verified and then upgraded. This paper discusses the key issues that must be considered for the upgradability of the system and presents a reference design of the Secure Firmware Upgrade System.