Getting started with Azure Sphere

Microsoft’s secure IoT boards are here. What’s it like coding them?

Getting started with Azure Sphere

Microsoft’s Azure Sphere is an interesting concept, a mix of secure cloud services, secure devices, and a new Linux-based operating system, all rolled into a single platform and a Visual Studio-based development platform. I recently received one of the first MT6320 development boards, and I’ve been taking it for a spin.

One of the big problems facing the IoT (internet of things) is security. We’ve all heard how smart bulbs have become part of botnets and how easy it is to break into a home hub and monitor devices. The question is, how do we secure a device that has no root of trust and no tracked supply chain?

That’s where Sphere comes in, mixing secure computing concepts with IoT. Key to the design is an end-to-end link between device, OS, and cloud services. At the heart of the platform is a secured microcontroller, with standard ARM processing and real-time cores, along with Microsoft’s Pluton cores, which mix CPU and hardware root of trust, building on the familiar concepts in Windows’ use of trusted computing modules for secure boot and to cryptographically manage key system components.

Securing the hardware and ecosystem is only part of the story. How easy is it to write code and deliver it to Sphere devices? You can have the securest hardware possible, but if you can’t deliver code, then it’s ultimately useless. Sphere’s original demos with Starbucks were a sign that Microsoft was on track to deliver a usable developer experience, but we had to wait until they shipped tools to see how easy it could be.

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