Thursday, December 7, 2017

Snapdragon 845’s Secure Processing Unit Protects Your Data from Attackers

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 system-on-chip isn’t just powerful, energy-efficient, and optimized for AI — it’s also highly secure. At Qualcomm’s Snapdragon press summit in Hawaii on Wednesday, the chipmaker detailed the flagship chip’s encryption and biometric authentication features.

The Snapdragon 845 is the first to feature Qualcomm’s secure processing unit (SPU), a new subsystem designed to protect biometrics, data, payment information, and SIM data. When you perform some kind of action on a Snapdragon 845-based devices — say, save a file or take a photograph — the system-on-chip’s SPU will generate a unique key. In addition, applications like WeChat and Facebook can use the SPU to generate keys as needed.

The SPU’s completely isolated from the system, according to Qualcomm. It’s not a “system master,” meaning it can’t access information from other systems or take control of new processes, but it’s able to access information from other systems independently.

It plays a crucial role in biometrics. In future Snapdragon 845-based devices, Qualcomm wants to store biometric data inside the SPU, run any necessary authenticator code inside the SPU, and terminate the data within the SPU itself. The chipmaker’s presenting it as a safer alternative to secure elements like ARM’s TrustZone, which have been exploited before.

We’ve seen a shift toward biometric authentication and encryption over the last few years, and tech like iris scanning and facial recognition has only accelerated it. Unlike a password, PIN code, or pattern, though, you can’t easily change your fingerprint or iris pattern. But if what we’ve heard about the Snapdragon 845’s SPU so far holds water, it’s well-positioned to protect against attacks.

Editor’s note: These are our initial impressions of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 platform — we haven’t had time to put it through its paces yet. Rest assured, we’ll follow up our “hot take” coverage with more thorough, detailed looks at the new system-on-chip and all of its features.

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