Cybersecurity Firmware Protects Machines as They Boot Up

Firmware implemented at bootloader promises to keep out cyberattacks before they spread through connected devices and their networks.

Spencer Chin, Senior Editor

April 7, 2023

2 Min Read
Quantropi boot-loader-graphics-1 (1).jpg
Quantropi’s uLoadXLQ bootloader firmware protects CPUs and embedded devices upon startup to prevent malware infections.Quantropi

Cybersecurity threats are likely to increase not only because of hackers, but because the emergence of quantum computing will render existing cryptography standards obsolete. A startup company, Quantropi, has developed bootloading firmware that implements digital encryption the moment the machine boots up, preventing malware from infecting the machine.

Built in partnership with Cypherbridge Systems and Quantropi’s QiSpace™ product suite, uLoadXLQ delivers quantum-secure boot loader and software update solutions for IoT / embedded platforms. uLoadXLQ integrates Quantropi’s MASQ-DS lightweight post-quantum digital signature algorithm featuring small signatures and fast verification, and SEQUR™ Quantum Entropy Services to generate and distribute quantum random numbers for true random cryptographic keys.

Bootloader Critical Security Point

The bootloader is a critical point for cybersecurity, according to Michael Redding, Chief Technical Officer of Quantropi, in a recent interview with Design News. “The bootloader can be infected at the beginning of the chain of security if it loads bad data,” Redding said. The bootloader is the first machine code to load when a CPU turns on. If you can add encryption here it would keep out a lot of malware.”

That malware can come from hackers targeting existing networks, But Redding warns that the onset of quantum computers for AI and other high-speed computing tasks will likely exacerbate these security risks, as threat actors can collect encrypted data from target sites today and decrypt the data as quantum computers become more commonplace and the malware cannot be blocked by outdated network encryption algorithms.

Redding added that the firmware can play a key role in protecting the increasing number of IoT devices, by verifying digital signatures before these devices can be infected by malware.

Quantropi’s bootloader algorithms runs first to check the digital signature upon the CPU starting up. On the IoT device, uLoadXLQ decrypts and verifies the image signature before saving it to the target code flash. If the verification fails, the code is blocked from installing and executing. At power-up or reset, uLoadXLQ executes system integrity checks, verifying application signatures, and automatically performing configurable fallback and recovery steps.

Redding said that the uLoadXLQ bootloader firmware is compatible with most microcontrollers and will be available via license. He added there is interest in the product from various markets where security is particularly critical, such as medical.

Quantropi will demonstrate the uLoadXLQ bootloader and other cybersecurity tool at the upcoming RSA Conference, an industry cybersecurity exhibition and conference.

Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor for Design News covering the electronics beat. He has many years of experience covering developments in components, semiconductors, subsystems, power, and other facets of electronics from both a business/supply-chain and technology perspective. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Spencer Chin

Senior Editor, Design News

Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor for Design News, covering the electronics beat, which includes semiconductors, components, power, embedded systems, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and other related subjects. He is always open to ideas for coverage. Spencer has spent many years covering electronics for brands including Electronic Products, Electronic Buyers News, EE Times, Power Electronics, and electronics360. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him at @spencerchin.

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