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4/16/2018
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Microsoft to Roll Out Azure Sphere for IoT Security

Azure Sphere, now in preview, is a three-part program designed to secure the future of connected devices and powered by its own custom version of Linux.

RSA CONFERENCE 2018 – San Francisco – Microsoft today announced Azure Sphere, a new technology designed to improve security for devices connected to the Internet of Things. In a notable move, Microsoft is releasing a custom Linux kernel to power the program.

The IoT is made up of devices running on microcontrollers (MCU), a chip that holds the device's compute, storage, memory, and operating system. More than nine billion of these devices are built and deployed each year but few are connected to the Internet today. Microsoft anticipates within a few years all of these devices, and more, will be connected to the Internet.

More connectivity poses a greater security risk, explained Microsoft president Brad Smith at a press conference in San Francisco. He pointed to the 2016 Mirai botnet attack as an example of what can happen in a future where the IoT isn't properly secured. "It is that kind of prospect that we have to take new steps to guard against," he said.

To do this, Microsoft built Azure Sphere, a system with three parts: certified microcontrollers, an Azure Sphere operating system to power the microcontrollers with Windows security features and a custom Linux kernel, and the Azure Sphere security service to protect devices.

Microsoft teamed up with MediaTek to create the first Azure Sphere chip, the MEdiaTekMT3620, which will come to market this year. The company projects that over time other partners will build and release their own Azure Sphere chips. To drive the market, Microsoft will license its silicon security tech royalty-free so partners can maintain lower cost for device manufacturers.

The microcontrollers will each include the Microsoft Pluton security subsystem, run the Azure Sphere OS, and connect to the security service for updates, authentication, and failure reporting. The Azure Sphere security service was built to manage device-to-device and device-to-cloud communications, detect security threats, and push updates.

It's significant to see Microsoft release a custom version of Linux, the free and open-source operating system once considered a major threat to Windows. This is the first custom Linux kernel Microsoft has built in its 43-year history. Smith noted the MCUs will not only work on Azure, but with Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, and other cloud platforms.

Azure Sphere is currently in private preview; Microsoft expects the first wave of Azure Sphere devices to be released by the end of this year. Dev kits will be globally available in mid-2018.

This wasn't the only security announcement Microsoft made at RSA. The company also released security features for its Microsoft 365 commercial cloud platform including the Microsoft Secure Score, which calculates enterprise security posture and provides a score that companies can use to gauge their security and compare it with their peers. Attack Simulator, a tool built into Office 365 Threat Intelligence, lets businesses run fake ransomware and phishing campaigns to test employees.

Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, which is part of the latest Windows 10 update (now in preview), brings threat protection and remediation across different parts of Microsoft 365 including Office 365, Windows, and Azure. Also in preview are automated investigation and remediation tools in Windows Defender ATP.

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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