Feb 10, 2015

Reviewing the $10,000 Ethernet Cable

posted by Kevin Morris

AudioQuest sells a $10,000 Ethernet cable.

The people who buy this cable know why they need it, and it's well worth the extra investment.

"Sure," some may say, "it's just data," but the ones and zeros that arrive at the end of this cable completely transcend binarity. The discerning dataphile will immediately recognize a truth that goes far beyond traditional one-ness, conveying the deeper essence of "true". Ordinary cables throw out flat, unbalanced ones that have no soul, but when your data comes streaming out the end of this cable, you'll  notice a new level of warm certainty that you've never felt with any other interface.

Zeros are, quite frankly, the blackest, deepest, emptiest zeros of any cable we've ever tested. When this cable gives you a zero, you can feel the falseness to the very core of your being.

When our testers were evaluating this cable, an odd thing happened. Slowly, they felt their eye diagrams get heavy and begin to close. A deep, restful calm came over their BERT scope display, and they found themselves backing down the transfer rate and just enjoying the ride.

That's an experience no other Ethernet cable could even comprehend.

Five Stars - our highest rating.

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Feb 05, 2015

Is Someone Tampering with Your IoT?

posted by Bryon Moyer

The stronger the hype, the likelier it will be accompanied by a “yesbut.”

A yesbut is that nagging question that needs to be asked in order to kick some critical thinking into gear. “Yes, but what about…?” Hype has a trajectory, however: in the beginning, only the hype sounds; it drowns out the few early-stage yesbuts. Yesbuts are killjoys, and no one wants them at a party. As the hype starts to wear out, however – as the party wanes, as the keg empties – the yesbuts grow in number and can actually be heard.

That’s where we are with the Internet of Things (IoT). We’ve heard about how the IoT will revolutionize our lives, clean up our environment, and provide each family with a unicorn, out of which rainbows will emanate. Or, at the very least, marketers will be better able to target us with ads, something society is clamoring for. Or something in between.

The accompanying yesbut has been consistent: “Yes, but what about security and privacy?” And now it’s nothing short of a dull roar.

Given all the attention on IoT security, I had planned an article that would summarize the panoply of IoT security solutions. I had links to various whitepapers and articles that I would use to research the broad range of security solutions out there.

That sounded good until I actually read all the stuff. And most of it simply echoed the yesbut. Everyone was agreeing that security is important and that we need to pay more attention to it. And that someone should do something about it. Few were actually stepping up with solutions. So I realized there wasn’t much to survey – yet, anyway – and I dropped the idea.

Except that in the bag of things I thought I had to talk about was a company/product that actually was attempting to help address this. There are actually a couple – my colleague Jim Turley wrote recently about Elliptic Labs tRoot. Today I’ll discuss a different one. You know, for when you have that argument in the architecture planning session that goes, “I want the tRoot!” “You can’t handle the tRoot!!” (Sorry… I just had to…)

The part I’m focusing on is one mere aspect of an overall security architecture. We’re familiar with the need to protect data – both “at rest” (that is, when stored) and “on the move” (when in transit on a network). And we’re familiar with the need to authenticate someone knocking on the door before letting them in. All good stuff, but it’s not enough.

If the guy knocking is sporting a balaclava and is caressing an assault rifle, well, it’s pretty obvious that he shouldn’t be admitted. If it’s the plumber you scheduled? Well, that’s fine; “In you come, and would you like some coffee?”

But really: How much do you trust him (or her)? Unless you watch his every move (something he would hate – as would I), you have this guy roaming around your house, hopefully fixing your plumbing issue. But, when he’s done and he leaves the house, is everything running properly? He might have accidentally messed something up – perhaps he neglected to tighten the trap properly, or nicked a gasket that’s now leaking. Or he might have maliciously installed a tiny internet camera somewhere.

How would you know? Before suffering the consequences, that is?

Worse yet is if an insider is at fault. Perhaps your teenager is being oblivious – or is subtly exacting revenge for some minor slight, like ruining his/her life – and is perturbing the household in some less-than-benevolent way. With computer systems, Icon Labs says that 70% of threats are from inside the “secure perimeter” – whether accidental or malicious*.

This is the motivation behind the Anti-Tamper module in Icon Labs’ Floodgate solution. Yes, you can monitor the packages coming in and going out of the house, and you can make sure the pantry is organized in some inscrutable way so that, even if someone got to it, they wouldn’t know what anything was. And you can make sure that the doorman is well compensated and immune to little temptations of cash to look aside. But what if someone has messed with fundamental assets? Created a crack in the foundation, as it were?

There are certain processes and data sets that form the foundation of your system. While it would be nice to make sure everything – all applications and games and whatnot – was pristine, at the very least, this primal stuff has to work or else all other bets are off. This is the trusted zone – the private red room, where the birds sing a pretty song. And most efforts are in making sure no one can get in who doesn’t belong there.

FG_security_frameworkV2_red.jpg 

(Image courtesy Icon Labs)

But what if you miss someone? The anti-tamper approach is to explicitly identify every resource – every file and every critical process. Everything has a signature. And, inside the system, then, is an inspector, an auditor, that can look around at the environment and ensure that everything is as it should be.

This is, in the preferred embodiment, a combination hardware/software solution. The Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) silicon IP modules provide hardware hooks that allow for inspection of all of these resources, coupled with software that actually performs the audits. Ideally, you’d include the hardware in your IC, and then the software would be part of your boot routine or could be summoned as needed while running.

If you already have your silicon in place, without the TPM and TEE, then they have a “virtual” vTPM – an all-software implementation that they would consider the next-best thing.

But what if you’re super-paranoid and don’t even trust that this auditing capability is immune to tampering itself? What if the auditor has been paid to look the other way, as if it were some taudry well-respected financial ratings company? Well, Icon Labs also has a remote audit capability that can be run out of the cloud.

FG_secure_arch_red.jpg

(Image courtesy Icon Labs)

Anti-tamper protection is but one aspect of the larger security strategy, but one that gets less attention. You can read more in their announcement.

 

*This statistic was offered up during the conversation we had. I note also in the press release an HP study quoted as saying 70% of systems are vulnerable. I checked, and it’s just coincidence that these stats are both 70%.

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Feb 04, 2015

A Touch Material for Any Surface

posted by Bryon Moyer

flexible material that can be made to conform to pretty much any shape. While this stretchability is a function of the substrate, its conductivity comes from a marriage between a carbon nanotube (CNT) and a Buckyball into a “nanobud.”

unnamed.png

(Image courtesy Canatu)

The company is Canatu, and they coat flexible plastic substrates via a room-temperature printing process with this CNTish material; that layer can then be patterned according to the application. In their manufacturing process, the nanobuds self-assemble on the CNTs.

The nanobuds appear to help with the conductance. Yes, CNTs can allow ballistic charge transport, but, so far, we can’t make inches-long CNTs and line them all up next to each other. So the inks used to print the CNT materials contain short CNT strands (20 µm, which Canatu says is actually long compared to typical CNT inks). The idea is that, as long as these strands touch each other, electrons can travel ballistically as far as they can, and then they hop onto another CNT and continue their journey.

Canatu believes that the nanobuds assist in assuring good contact between adjacent CNTs, improving electron flow. Good density and good contact would be particularly important for a material that is going to stretch (which would increase the average separation between strands).

The following is how Canatu’s layers would be integrated into a touch application (like the virtual clipboard shown).*

 Matls_stack.png

(Image courtesy Canatu)

There’s a key distinction between some other touch materials and Canatu’s approach: in some other cases, you “pattern” with lines (perhaps fine metal lines), and the lines themselves are the conductors. It can be the opposite here: the coating does the conducting, and lines can be patterned to separate the coating into regions that can then be used to figure out where touch is occurring.

So, for example, a slider may be patterned as chevrons; each chevron slice registers as a finger runs along it. A two-dimensional implementation would use two layers: one striped in the X direction, the other in the Y direction.

But such flat implementations aren’t the only ones possible. Canatu has three versions of their material:

  • Hi-Contrast: this is intended for flat applications like your basic touchscreen; they claim zero haze and zero reflectance. This is an existing product.
  • Flex: this can be applied on 2.5D surfaces (that is, you can bend either in the X or Y direction, but not both). Once applied, it can be flexed in any direction. It also shares the clear characteristics of the Hi-Contrast product. Also an existing product.
  • In-Mold: this has been newly announced, and it’s a completely stretchable (up to 120%), moldable, 3D-flexible film that can be applied to most any kind of terrain. The ink is applied on the film while flat, and then the film can be fitted to its surface. It’s a bit darker than the other two because it has a different substrate, but if the surface onto which it’s applied isn’t a screen, then that probably doesn’t matter.

Flex.png 

(Image courtesy Canatu)

Electrically, this touch material looks like ITO, so standard ITO controllers can be used when assembling a system.

As far as cost goes, the flat hi-contrast material is priced just under high-quality ITO. For 2.5D and 3D, there’s no ITO competition, so there’s less to keep a cap on the cost… But Canatu says that the film isn’t the cost limiter in such systems.

You can find out more about their new In-Mold version in their latest announcement.

 

*“OCA” is “optically-clear adhesive.”

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