Update on our new and upcoming security keys


 

Our current suite of products (Solo C, Solo A, Solo Tap A, Solo Tap C, Somu) make up the first generation of products that Solokeys has released, starting with our initial Kickstarter campaign.

Now we’re getting ready to release a new generation of products this year that completely redesign and upgrade everything we’ve done so far.  With our upcoming generation, we aim to really be the best security key for consumers and enterprise. 

Here’s the progress on physical upgrades, and a future post will cover the firmware & feature improvements.

 

NFC

Our biggest priority with hardware was improving the NFC performance.  Primarily for mobile phones, which often have relatively weak NFC readers.

Passive NFC for FIDO2 key is one of the more challenging NFC devices to get right.  Most NFC devices people interact with are more like NFC tags, which are essentially just a memory with static information, and only need very little power to work.  Whereas a FIDO2 device requires a full processor capable of quickly computing cryptographic operations, and requires considerable more power.  So to get it to work with weak NFC readers, it requires considerable optimization.

Our upcoming keys are able to drive optimization in three areas.

The antenna



The NFC antenna has a more optimized geometry for mobile phones.  On average, it will be able to transfer more power.

Upgraded chipset

We're tracking to use a new chipset for NFC communication and NFC power harvesting.  It can handle faster timing requirements and larger buffers which overall increases reliability.

Less power consumption

Ever hear about Moore’s law?  Roughly, ever two years, the number of transistors on new processors doubles, due to semiconductor processes being able to make increasingly smaller transistors.  This allows new generations of processors to keep getting “faster.”

Well, there’s a bunch of different transistor technologies.  There are transistor technologies dedicated for low power applications -- and every generation provides less power consumption for the same processor.

We’ve upgraded to a new microcontroller for the new Solo products, and it nominally consumes about 25% less power, while having the same performance.  This is a great “free” optimization for us.

Furthermore, our new microcontroller provides hardware acceleration for cryptographic operations (like ECC signatures), allowing us to actually both improve performance while reducing power.

Durability

We want to be able to guarantee that none of our products ever “break,” and can even survive underwater.

To fulfill this, we’ll be the first to undertake a new PCB technology and epoxy filling process to guarantee a very robust and water-proof key.  The PCB will have a manufactured cavity where all the components will get assembled, and then filled with transparent epoxy.

The USB-C connector is made very robust with the addition of solder welds onto the cavity of the PCB.


Buttons



As you might notice, there’s now three side-buttons, and they are touch sensitive.  So it’s easier to “press” and no stress is given on the connecting socket, as with top-facing button.

With there being more than one button, we plan to leverage multiple gesture for different applications.  For example, FIDO2 can require a touch on any button to approve a request (like normal).  But by pressing two buttons at once (giving the key a light “squeeze”), this could emit a static password or OTP.

High speed HSM

Our device will be capable of throughput on the order of 50MB/s, which can enable bulk encryption/decryption operations.  Asymmetric operations (like signing) can reach 10-40 operations / second, depending on the algorithm.

Firmware

Perhaps the most important, is the actual firmware features on the device.  We’ll get into more of this in a future post, but for now, know that we’re actively working on:

* FIDO2
* PIV / PKCS#11
* Frictionless & secure web-update

And it’s all written in Rust, which provides large safety guarantees and compile time assurance of isolation between apps on the key.

Keep me updated!

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