Implementing secure over-the-air (OTA) updates in embedded devices

This is a follow up article related to Secure Booting and Secure Flashing. It is the 5th article related to Strengthening the Security of Embedded Devices

Implementing secure over-the-air (OTA) updates in embedded devices requires careful consideration of various security aspects.

Here are some key steps to implement secure OTA updates:

1. Secure Communication Channel
– Use secure protocols such as HTTPS or MQTT over TLS/SSL to establish an encrypted communication channel between the device and the update server.
– Authenticate the server using certificates to ensure the device is communicating with a trusted source.
– Employ strong encryption algorithms to protect the confidentiality and integrity of the update data during transmission.

2. Code and Firmware Integrity
– Digitally sign the firmware updates using a private key and verify the signature using a corresponding public key on the device.
– Implement mechanisms such as checksums or hash functions to verify the integrity of the received update files.
– Use secure boot techniques to ensure that only trusted and authenticated firmware updates are installed on the device.

3. Access Control and Authorization
– Authenticate and authorize the device before allowing it to download and install updates.
– Implement access control mechanisms to ensure that only authorized devices or users can initiate or perform updates.
– Employ secure user authentication methods such as username/password, certificates, or tokens to validate the device’s identity.

4. Incremental Updates and Rollbacks
– Support incremental updates to reduce the data transfer size and minimize the update time, especially for large firmware files.
– Implement mechanisms to handle update failures or rollbacks in case of errors or compatibility issues during the update process.

5. Secure Storage
– Store the downloaded update files securely on the device to prevent unauthorized access or tampering.
– Use encryption and access control mechanisms to protect the firmware updates from extraction or modification by unauthorized entities.

6. Logging and Auditing
– Maintain logs of OTA update activities, including details such as update versions, timestamps, and device identification.
– Implement auditing mechanisms to track and monitor update processes, detecting any suspicious or unauthorized activities.

7. Regular Security Updates and Patch Management
– Continuously monitor for security vulnerabilities and release patches or updates as needed.
– Implement a robust patch management system to ensure timely deployment of security updates to the embedded devices.

8. Testing and Validation
– Conduct thorough testing and validation of the OTA update process, including functional, security, and compatibility testing.
– Perform vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to identify potential weaknesses in the OTA update implementation.

Last, but not least:

You need to have a secure backend that serves the updates. Make sure that you have configured the server correctly, secure and that it is always updated to the latest version.


Follow these best practices to establish a secure OTA update mechanism, ensuring that devices receive timely and secure firmware updates while mitigating the risk of unauthorized access, tampering, or exploitation during the update process.

The post Implementing secure over-the-air (OTA) updates in embedded devices first appeared on Sorin Mustaca on Cybersecurity.