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Lightning cable's authentication chip found to offer "just enough" security

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
In a teardown of Apple's new Lightning cable, semiconductor and electronic systems analysis firm Chipworks found an unpublished Texas Instruments chip that is likely to include a security feature, which Apple may be leveraging to stop third-party accessory makers from building unauthorized products.

Lightning Cable Teardown
Apple's Lightning cable holds four chips, one possibly being an authentication device. | Source: Chipworks


AppleInsider was first to report on the existence of what appeared to be authentication chips in Apple's new Lightning connector, noting at the time that the cable's design likely thwarts clones of the 30-pin dock connector replacement.

Chipworks has now confirmed that there are indeed four chips embedded in the Lightning cable assembly, including two transistors, an NXP NX20P3, and the aforementioned TI chip.

After removing Lightning's sturdy shell, the firm took a closer look at the die to discover it bore the marking "BQ2025," a part number not published by TI. The chip maker does have material on the BQ2022, BQ2023, BQ2024, and BQ2026, however, with the four parts catalogued as battery fuel gauges.

Chipworks pointed out that while the four chips are not identical, they do share certain "common characteristics."

"All use a single wire SDQ interface (TI?s proprietary serial communications protocol), and all have some basic security features such as CRC generation," Chipworks noted. "So, it is certainly likely that the BQ2025 does have some security implemented on it. It would also seem likely that it includes an SDQ interface."

Lending more evidence to the theory that the unknown TI chip is a security device, Chipworks' lab investigation yielded a lower metal sample view which allowed the firm to see further details like a digital logic block containing "about 5K gates of logic." Also discovered was the EPROM (erasable programmable read only memory) "with likely 64 or 128 bits of storage," large driver transistors, analog circuitry and "a fair amount of capacitance."

Lightning Lower Metal
Die-level image of the TI chip.


"This is certainly all consistent with a serial communication chip including some simple security features," Chipworks concluded.

The presence of the security device comes as somewhat of a surprise, as the firm has previously seen such measures taken in medical printer media (armbands), printer cartridges, flash drive memory, and other secure applications, but never before in a cable.

That being said, the TI chip is not on par with current security technology like that used in printer cartridges. Instead, Apple's Lightning cable is reminiscent of tech manufacturers used in "the olden days," and is possibly an attempt to keep costs down for the already pricey component.

"In other words, at this time the security is 'just enough,'" Chipworks said, adding, "With future generations of Apple and non-Apple products, we may begin to see even stronger security and control if the market forces merit it."
post #2 of 25
WHAT ??!!!! CRC is a SECURITY feature ??!!!!

If they mean "security" as in "no data corrupted", then yeah, CRC is a security feature.
However, if they mean "security" as in "only authorized people can access", then NOOOOOOOOO, CRC is NOT a security feature.
post #3 of 25
Where by %u201Cfound to offer%u201D we mean %u201Cmay or may not offer anything to do with security but here%u2019s some guesswork to draw attention to our company."
post #4 of 25

I don't understand.  Don't we WANT 3rd parties to be making accessories for our iPhone 5 and next generation iPads?

post #5 of 25
I can see why this would raise Apple's cost per cable/adapter - but why pass that cost on to us? They should eat it. I know ALL costs are passed on to the customer one way or another, but I mean in the cable itself.

This high price gives cloners a huge incentive to find a way around this (if it's possible).
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post #6 of 25

Yes, but Apple wants to charge them a licensing fee to do so - this forces them to actually pay - unlike with the previous cable, no-name companies would simply distribute without paying Apple. Fine. But let Apple eat the cost of this chip, it's not like it's a feature for us.

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post #7 of 25

All nonsense like this does is keep honest companies honest, while dishonest asian knockoffs make a killing at a fraction the cost.

I'm sure Belkin and the like are just thrilled about this turn of events.

post #8 of 25

Yeah, it could be a way to lock out other vendors.  Or it could be a way to make sure the correct voltages and signals are connected to the right pins (remember the plug is reversible).

 

But I'm sure when some poorly implemented knockoff charging cable burns down someone's house that tech bloggers will rush to blame Apple just the same.

 

Sheesh!

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post #9 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by 8CoreWhore View Post

Yes, but Apple wants to charge them a licensing fee to do so - this forces them to actually pay - unlike with the previous cable, no-name companies would simply distribute without paying Apple. Fine. But let Apple eat the cost of this chip, it's not like it's a feature for us.

Since you don't know Apple's extended plans for this feature in the cable, you are making a leap in assumption that may well prove totally false. 

post #10 of 25

"...there are indeed four chips embedded in the Lightning cable assembly, including two transistors, an NXP NX20P3, and the aforementioned TI chip."

 

It's just downright amazing to me how much technology Apple has been able to fit into such a tiny space within a cable connector... and then to see the complexity of the one chip made my head spin. 

post #11 of 25

Just enough to benefit from the DMCA?

post #12 of 25
I don't know if it's true but I have heard somewhere, that there won't be any need for a special adapter to attach a DSLR camera to the iPhone. Due to a limitation of USB, there has to be exactly ONE bus master on a USB bus. If you attach the iPhone to a computer, then the computer is the bus master. The iPhone can't be a bus master for that reason, and neither can the DSLR, hence the special adapter, that looks like a bus master for both the iPhone and the attached camera.

From what I've heard the iPhone 5 doesn't need that adapter, so the cable has somehow to determine if it's connected to a computer, that will be the bus master, or if it's connected to some DSLR or other device, and the iPhone has to act as a bus master.

It this is true, then that will require some chip to implement this stuff. This is in addition to the dynamic assignment of pins, depending on what's in the other end (ie USB or some other connector) of the cable.
post #13 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by 8CoreWhore View Post

Yes, but Apple wants to charge them a licensing fee to do so - this forces them to actually pay - unlike with the previous cable, no-name companies would simply distribute without paying Apple. Fine. But let Apple eat the cost of this chip, it's not like it's a feature for us.

The old Dock Connector was supposed to be licensed too... I think it was $4 per device.

Any reasonable company would pay it... but I'm sure there were a lot of non-licensees.
post #14 of 25
There are thousands of knock off iphone 4 accessories in Hong Kong being sold for virtually nothing. They are largely being replaced with thousands of dirt cheap Android accessories as these phones are becoming predominant.
post #15 of 25
However much I hate the fact that the cord has a chip, making the cord more expensive, Apple is actually taking care of its customers; just not the ones buying an iPhone. Companies that make licensed Apple accessories pay Apple a fee to do so and this chip will shrink the accessory market giving more money to official producers. I still think it's lame but that's how business works sometimes.
post #16 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by 8CoreWhore View Post

I can see why this would raise Apple's cost per cable/adapter - but why pass that cost on to us? They should eat it. I know ALL costs are passed on to the customer one way or another, but I mean in the cable itself.
This high price gives cloners a huge incentive to find a way around this (if it's possible).

What? Just leave, troll. This cable is $10 cheaper than the last one, so I don't understand how you can say Apple is passing cost onto us when they lowered the price.
post #17 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by mulrich View Post

However much I hate the fact that the cord has a chip, making the cord more expensive, Apple is actually taking care of its customers; just not the ones buying an iPhone. Companies that make licensed Apple accessories pay Apple a fee to do so and this chip will shrink the accessory market giving more money to official producers. I still think it's lame but that's how business works sometimes.

Yeah, it's really a shame that some businesses are concerned enough about user experience to try to create new technologies and enforce their intellectual property rights. /s
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post #18 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by 8CoreWhore View Post

I can see why this would raise Apple's cost per cable/adapter - but why pass that cost on to us? They should eat it. I know ALL costs are passed on to the customer one way or another, but I mean in the cable itself.
This high price gives cloners a huge incentive to find a way around this (if it's possible).

On Apple's store right now: USB to 30pin cable: $19. Also, USB to Lightning cable: $19. WTF are you talking about?

 

And even if it was more, of course they should pass that cost on to us. They're a for-profit business.

 

If cloners "find a way around this," good for them. Use their products at your own risk. There's a reason I don't use 30-pin cables and chargers from the dollar store today - I don't trust them. I'll buy name brand, and I will in the future.

post #19 of 25
I feel that it is a good idea to have a security chip. What it would do is stop the influx of crap devices that can hook up to your iDevice. I think that Apple should bring back their HiFi though.
post #20 of 25
This series of TI chips is generally used for product identification: returning an identification number on a 1-pin serial interface. Since the Lightning connector is planned to be future proof, I would expect it to require cables to identify what hardware and software interface to use.
Edited by NormM - 10/16/12 at 8:32am
post #21 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by John.B View Post

... I'm sure when some poorly implemented knockoff charging cable burns down someone's house that tech bloggers will rush to blame Apple ...

 

It's even worse than that because "burning down the house" is the worst that could happen with the old cables.  The lightning cable is all digital and switchable, the possible downside from a bad fake cable, (or even a purposely malicious cable) is much larger than people realise.  

 

In theory you could hack the cable to do all kinds of nefarious things.

post #22 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by 8CoreWhore View Post

I can see why this would raise Apple's cost per cable/adapter - but why pass that cost on to us? They should eat it. I know ALL costs are passed on to the customer one way or another, but I mean in the cable itself.
This high price gives cloners a huge incentive to find a way around this (if it's possible).

This is why:
http://www.arcfn.com/2012/03/inside-cheap-phone-charger-and-why-you.html

Counterfeit accessories result in house fires and such. We don't want this crap thank you very much.

There's perhaps some wiggle room on things that don't electronically interface with the iphone, ipad, etc, but if it can risk destroying the device at either end, it needs to never leave China.
post #23 of 25

It won't be long until the tiny chip embedded in the cable will be more powerful than the computer used to land the lunar module (and that pooped out at the last minute or so, due to overload).  Amazing.

post #24 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by 2oh1 View Post

I don't understand.  Don't we WANT 3rd parties to be making accessories for our iPhone 5 and next generation iPads?

Sure, we want third party accessories. All encryption would do is make sure the third parties pay the proper license fees and have proper quality control.
post #25 of 25
Olivierl is right. CRC isn't a security feature, it's a way of ensuring data integrity. Which is important for a high speed cable whose entire existence is to transmit data from one end to another. As we approach the speed limits of what is possible over copper cable measures like this chip become necessary.

The wikipedia entry on CRC is good enough for introductory purposes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclic_redundancy_check
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