Microsoft's Azure Sphere is built to secure IoT devices Image: Microsoft

Microsoft today unveiled Azure Sphere, its bid to help secure the billions of microcontroller-powered internet of things (IoT) devices the company says are deployed every year. Made up of three parts, Azure Sphere includes an operating system, dedicated Azure Sphere-certified microcontrollers (MCUs), and an Azure Sphere Security Service.

One of the more interesting parts of Azure Sphere is the certified microcontrollers. The MCUs combine "both real-time and application processors with built-in Microsoft security technology and connectivity," Microsoft says. Further, the silicon security technology takes advantage of "years of experience" Microsoft has under its belt in bolstering its Xbox chipsets. Azure Sphere-certified chips are expected to arrive from a number of partners in the future, and MediaTek is already producing its own, Microsoft says.

The MCUs can be combined with Azure Sphere OS, which, interestingly, is built on a custom Linux kernel. The OS combines multiple layers of security intended to further protect IoT devices from attack. Azure Sphere Security Service's role in all of this is to act as a "turnkey, cloud service" that protects each Azure Sphere device, including device-to-device and device-to-cloud communication.

The purpose behind all of this is to provide a holistic approach to security for IoT devices. With hardware, an OS, and a security service so deeply integrated, Azure Sphere could offer a compelling option for companies building IoT devices. And since IoT appears ready to boom as more and more internet-connected devices hit the market, Azure Sphere could put Microsoft in a strong position going forward – if it can get others on board.

Azure Sphere is available now in private preview, and the first Azure Sphere chip, the MediaTek MT3620, is expected to hit the market later this year.

Azure Sphere made its debut today at RSA Conference, where Microsoft also made a few other security-related announcements, including new threat detection and remediation tools for Windows Defender ATP. For more, check out Microsoft's full announcement at the Azure blog.

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