IOT Security Modules: Modular Hardware for Software Engineers

Created: June 29, 2018

PCB design in Altium Designer

From PCB designed in CircuitStudio to Zymbit finished product

The Internet of Things - Big Promise or Big Problem?

By 2023 the IoT promises to be 50 billion connected devices strong, transacting $8 Trillion of economic value!

That’s orders of magnitude bigger and much more complex than anything we have seen before, and current models of development, deployment, device management and IoT security don’t easily translate to this new world disorder. New products, new tools and new ways of developing are required.

This challenge is particularly true in the area of IoT device security which, if not executed correctly, can have significant negative impact on economies, lives, national security, political outcomes and more.

Zymbit security module

Zymbit security modules designed in CircuitStudio

Designing 50 billion Devices

Unlike mobile phones or personal computers which are designed for high volume production in the billions of units, the IoT is built from a constantly evolving universe of devices with each addressing a unique IoT application or need, with specific combinations of CPU, I/O, communications, power, enclosure and more.

Designing, developing, compliance testing and manufacturing all these different devices is an enormous task that is likely to extend over the next decade, perpetuated by ever-evolving business models, technologies and supply chains. What’s needed is a more agile and efficient development process, particularly for hardware, which as we all know is hard.

More Modular Designs Ahead

The logical way to deal with this high mix of requirements is to use modular designs that can be efficiently mass-customized by system engineers and integrators without the need for specialized knowledge of the underlying modules.   

The first wave of IoT projects have been fueled by modular hardware and software ecosystems centered around low-cost single-board computers. As projects transition from proof of concepts to pilot trials, and then to mass deployments, a security solution will remain loose integrations of standard modules, while some will transition to more tightly integrated custom boards and system on modules (SOMs). Having design tools that can support these transitions is key to participating in the fast paced development of IoT devices. And more importantly such tools must be easy to use by non-power users; integrators, system engineers, and very importantly, software engineers.

Modular Hardware for Software Engineers

Modular Single Board Computers

On February 29, 2012 the Raspberry Pi single board computer, based upon a Broadcom CPU, was launched as an educational computer, with an initial sales volume target of 10,000 pieces. Six years later, over 15 Million have been sold into all sorts of professional applications ranging from industrial controls, digital signage, security forensic tools and much more. The strong Pi ecosystem of modular software and hardware accessories has grown to serve developers on a global scale; this includes single board computers sporting alternate CPUs from vendors like Rockchip, Intel and Samsung, and with high degrees of electrical and mechanical compatibility to the Pi family.

Alternative ecosystems from Beaglebone, Qualcomm, Odroid, Asus and Arduino ensure a vibrant marketplace in which IoT developers have a wide choice a  of modular components.

Modular Security for IoT Devices

Security is often the last thing software developers attend to before deploying a pilot system in the field. This makes the task of integrating chip-level crypto authentication solutions painful at best, and often impossible without a redesign of hardware and software.

Zymbit saw the need for a hardware security module that both software and hardware developers could integrate late in the design cycle, that would work with leading single board computers and software services, and would deliver complete cyber and physical security of intellectual property, data and credentials.  

Zymbit Security Modules

Zymbit’s new security modules deliver both cyber (digital) and physical security to IoT devices, making them hard to penetrate in the real world beyond the security of a firewall. They work with a range of single board computers and are supported by developer kits (also designed in CircuitStudio) and secure enclosures (designed in SolidWorks).

security modules easy to integrate framework diagram

Zymbit security modules are easy to integrate - hard to penetrate

A Streamlined Workflow - from PCB design to first product in less than 6 weeks.

Zymbit engineers used the DRC and 3D modeling capabilities of CircuitStudio to get first pass prototypes that were functional and close to production ready.   

Zymbit module

Zymbit used CircuitStudio to design a new class of IoT security modules that are easy to integrate and hard to penetrate.

Easy Mechanical Integration - exporting STEP files from to SolidWorks

A key feature of Zymbit security modules is their resistance to physical tampering. Achieving this required custom packaging with detailed features and tight tolerances. Being able to export Zymbit components from as .STEP files made it simple to exchange information with our mechanical designers who used SolidWorks to design custom mechanical components, model and visualize their overall assembly in 3D.


created in Altium Designer and exported at .STEP files

Zymbit components created in CircuitStudio, exported at .STEP files

Creating Custom Components – an easy way to share modules between design teams and customers  

Zymbit security modules are integrated with other third party modules to form complete IoT devices. Being able to handle security modules as a component makes the integration process much more efficient and consistent and easily scalable across design teams in different locations allows components to include the footprint, electrical and 3D mechanical attributes that can be shared without exposing any of the underlying design details.

Complete System Integration – System on Modules!

Bringing together Zymbit components with third party electrical and mechanical components is the final step in creating secure and functional products. After all, it’s not much of a system without everything getting to be placed together.

Altium Designer components, integrated with custom mechanical and third party system components

Zymbit-created components, integrated with custom mechanical and third party system components.

Multiple modules in one coherent and secure system

Multiple modules integrated into one coherent and secure system

Making Things Secure – Made Easy With Zymbit Security Modules

New technology and processes always feel large and daunting at first. Fortunately, as tools and ecosystems evolve the task of product design and integration becomes easier and faster; with Zymbit’s security modules and CircuitStudio’s design tools, you can now reliably make things secure and ready for action in the real world.

With intuitive, easy-to-use tools for modular designs you’ll be able to work through any custom component and module creation with confidence. Zymbit and CircuitStudio will make it easy for mechanical and systems designers to collaborate through SolidWorks and to seamlessly transition projects to professional CircuitStudio teams around the globe.   

If you’re interested in trying out Zymbit’s modular security designs today, then check out

Thank you to Phil Strong and the team at Zymbit for this contributed article.

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