The best upgrade to the Pixel 6 Tensor chip isn’t speed. It’s security

Google’s new flagship The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro smartphones have received solid reviews so far, thanks in part to the custom Tensor processor inside. Google designed the “system-on-chip” in-house, giving it a speed and efficiency advantage similar to that enjoyed by Apple with its in-house silicon. And while there’s a lot to admire in fast performance and all-day battery life, Tensor offers another less-hyped advantage: security.

Google isn’t alone in wanting to manufacture its own chips for smartphones, a trend that has grown in the industry over the past few years. By controlling every layer (hardware, firmware, and software), businesses don’t need to depend on resources from external partners. As a result, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro hit big milestones, like guaranteeing security updates for five years, up from an industry standard of three years. (Apple generally supports older iPhones up to seven years old, but it doesn’t make any promises in advance.)

Some of the biggest security and privacy benefits on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are less obvious, however, and relate to how Tensor and Google’s additional Titan M2 security chip work to partition and defend sensitive data. By adding new transparency features and Android 12 security protections on top of that, the Pixel team says their goal was to make the cost of hacking the 6 and 6 Pro as high as possible for attackers.

“That doesn’t mean there have never been bugs, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to hack, but the cost keeps rising,” says Dave Kleidermacher, vice president of engineering. for Android security and privacy. “I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that the open source strategy is the winning strategy.”

This strategy contrasts with Apple’s closed iOS ecosystem, which has certainly had its security issues in recent years. Then again, Android has done this too, and it deals with the added hurdle of manufacturers offering their own versions of the OS on their hardware, which means not all security and privacy updates make it through. to each device in a timely manner, if at all.

The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro have all the advantages, however. Tensor is based on ARM technology and uses that company’s isolation architecture, TrustZone, as a way to block sensitive data and computation. On the Pixel 6 and 6 Plus, TrustZone runs a specialized, secure, and open-source Google operating system called Trusty OS.

Android 12 was also the start of an open source software sandbox known as Private Compute Core. It exists in the standard operating system, but is specially isolated to run private data analysis that powers features like live captions and smart response suggestions without storing or sharing data with Google.

And the fun of secure processing doesn’t stop there. Tensor also has a dedicated physical area, Tensor Security Core, which runs the system over a chip’s most sensitive data and communicates with the Titan M2 chip to protect vital processes like Secure Boot. Titan M2 is a completely separate custom chip that now has more memory, more storage, and stronger cryptographic engines for things like encryption key management.

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