Yesterday, at the RSA 2018 security conference, Microsoft announced a new security-focused product named Azure Sphere.
According to Microsoft chief financial officer Brad Smith, Microsoft created Azure Sphere for the sole purpose of securing Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
The Azure Sphere announcement is full of fluff and a lot of generic terms, but what users need to understand is the following:
≫ Azure Sphere is a service aimed at IoT manufacturers.
≫ The Azure Sphere "service" consits of a trifecta of products —a new custom microcontroller, a custom Linux-based operating system, and a cloud-based security service.
≫ The custom microcontroller is a custom chip developed based on Microsoft's work on its Xbox product.
≫ First Microsoft Azure Sphere chips will be mass-produced by MediaTek under the codename of MediaTek MT3620 and will enter the market later this year, ready to be used with IoT devices.
≫ The chip's silicon design is royalty-free, meaning other vendors will be able to create similar chipsets at no extra costs and deploy them with their own products, in case they don't want to use MediaTek chips.
≫ Microsoft is also releasing Azure Sphere OS, a Linux distro specifically designed for its custom chip.
≫ Microsoft has also released the Azure Sphere Security Service, a cloud service that continually scans Azure Sphere devices for security anomalies.
≫ This cloud service will report errors or emerging threats targeting a vendor's devices via a custom dashboard, allowing manufacturers to detect problems as soon as they occur.
Microsoft says it designed Azure Sphere based on seven security principles it also employed for the design of its Xbox gaming consoles, see table below and this PDF document.
Microsoft said first Azure Sphere is currently available only as a private preview for selected customers, but that development kits will be released for the developer community by mid-2018.
The company also expects that first Azure Sphere-powered IoT devices to land on store shelves by the end of the year.
Azure Sphere is Microsoft's second attempt to enter the IoT market after its Windows 10 IoT operating system has failed to gain any significant traction with smart device makers.