Google announces Adiantum, a new standard for encrypting low-end devices
Google LLC today announced a new data encryption standard for low-powered devices such as entry-level Android smartphones and “internet of things” gadgets.
The new standard, called Adiantum, is designed to encrypt data on devices that don’t run on the latest ARMv8 processors and are therefore unable to support the latest Advanced Encryption Standard that’s used on most of today’s smartphones and tablets.
Specifically, Adiantum is geared for devices running on the older ARM Cortex-A7 processors that lack the specialized hardware needed to run AES. Such devices include things such as smartwatches and Smart TVs, as well as low-end phones. On these devices, the AES encryption is said to be “so slow that it would result in a poor user experience: apps would take much longer to launch, and the device would generally feel much slower,” Google said.
Because of these problems, Google has exempted such devices from its general requirement that they must run AES. But Google has always been a big fan of encryption, as it gives users a way to protect their online privacy and digital identities.
That’s why Adiantum is designed to fill the gap and ensure that low-end devices can benefit from the same level of security as their higher-end cousins, Eugene Liderman, director of mobile security strategy at the Android Security & Privacy Team, said in a blog post.
Adiantum makes it possible to encrypt local data without impacting system performance, Liderman said.
“Currently Android supports AES-128-CBC-ESSIV for full-disk encryption and AES-256-XTS for file-based encryption,” he explained. “However, when AES performance is insufficient there is no widely accepted alternative that has sufficient performance on lower-end ARM processors.”
Adiantum is meant to be that alternative, Liderman said. It relies on the new ChaCha 20 stream cipher technology, the technicalities of which are explained in this deep dive by Android security engineers Paul Crowley and Eric Biggers. According to them, the standard is able to provide strong encryption on low-end devices without affecting the speed at which they run.
“Our hope is that Adiantum will democratize encryption for all devices,” Liderman said. “Just like you wouldn’t buy a phone without text messaging, there will be no excuse for compromising security for the sake of device performance.”
The source code for Adiantum is available on GitHub.
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