SAN MATEO, Calif. Micronas GmbH will begin to offer samples next month of a programmable microcontroller designed to add content protection features to MP3 players.
Built around an ARM7TDMI microprocessor core, the company's Zenon chip "is designed to address the music industry's security concerns for electronic music distribution," said Hubertus von Janecek, marketing manager of advanced audio at Micronas (Freiburg, Germany).
Zenon decodes MP3 music files and provides multiple layers of tamper resistance. By using on-chip flash memory, "we've made sure that all system resources are controlled by an on-chip system protection unit," von Janecek said.
The current generation of MP3 players store secure data on external memories, which makes security codes susceptible to reverse engineering, Micronas said. In contrast, Zenon prevents unauthorized access to data such as PIN numbers, passwords or algorithms, the company said.
Furtherm ore, system OEMs can disable all debug interfaces to protect the device against more sophisticated attacks, von Janecek said.
Zenon's 256 kbytes of on-chip flash is large enough to store data to support multiple digital rights management (DRM) systems, which differentiates it from competitors' chips for MP3 players, Micronas said. Zenon's fully programmable USB interface also allows the chip to work with virtually any DRM solution chosen by a record label for the secure exchange of digital music files.
No single security measure currently prevails among music labels, so Micronas will pitch Zenon "as a hardware platform of choice for the music industry, where they can adopt any DRM and any security measures," von Janecek said.
None of the security measures on Zenon, including the Serial Copy Management System, were available on Micronas' previous MP3 player chips. Micronas is unable to ship its MAS3587F to the United States because the chip, an encoder/decoder designed to support the ripping of t racks from a CD, violates the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, von Janecek said. But a change in the chip's firmware has enabled Micronas to sell it as the MAS35x9F MP3 decoder with AAC and G.729 voice codec features.
By combining that chip with Zenon, Micronas can offer audio player manufacturers a two-chip solution for MP3 players with recording, playback and security features.
Zenon, priced at $10 apiece in volume, is scheduled for mass production in August. The chip will be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in a 0.25-micron embedded flash process.