UltraSoc Secures New Funding for Hardware-Level Cybersecurity

Article By : Nitin Dahad

Embedded analytics firm UltaSoC targets hardware-based cybersecurity with new funding.

UK-based embedded analytics firm UltraSoC has secured £5m (about US $6.4 million) in new funding to target hardware level cybersecurity, hire more hardware and software engineers in the UK, and open a data science and machine learning engineering center in Warsaw, Poland.

UltraSoC said it had already established itself as a solution for semiconductor companies needing to understand how their system-on-chip (SoC) products are behaving. While this results in reduced development and debug costs, those same customers are also recognizing the potential for its technology in implementing functional safety and cybersecurity features.

CEO Rupert Baines commented, “This funding round will enable us to grasp that opportunity, which I believe we are uniquely equipped to address.”

The company said its approach to cybersecurity places anomaly detection directly into the silicon, enabling hardware-based threat detection. This can identify attacks very quickly – in microseconds rather than milliseconds. Also, since it is ‘below the OS’, it is therefore very hard for an attacker to detect, circumvent or subvert.

UltraSoc security diagram

UltraSoC on-chip monitors at bare metal level can watch for unexpected behaviors such as suspicious memory accesses or processor activity, at hardware speed and non-intrusively, with minimal silicon overhead. (Image: UltraSoC)

Baines told EE Times, “We can efficiently build a monitoring and communications infrastructure that functions independently from the main system. So, that in itself provides an extra layer of security, over and above standard techniques: an addition to the single root of trust provided by standard systems.” He said UltraSoC enables a system to be configured that functions entirely non-intrusively, if that is needed. “Our monitors react at hardware speed, so we can respond very quickly indeed (microseconds), if an intrusion takes place.”

He added “We can also build ‘smarts’ into the hardware — I can’t say too much about that at the moment, because it’s very definitely a highly differentiated proposition. We’ve shared these concepts with partners and security experts who assure us that what we can do is genuinely unique.”

In addition to hiring engineers at its headquarters in Cambridge, UK, and design center in Bristol, UK, it also plans to open an engineering center in Warsaw, Poland to develop its data science and machine-learning technologies. Baines told us that Warsaw and Krakow have excellent strength in data science, and this will be a major focus for the design center as the company looks more into how it can help its customers and their customers to make use of the rich data it collects from chips.

The Polish center will be headed up by UltraSoC’s director of system engineering Marcin Hlond, who was previously with Blu Wireless and Icera before joining UltraSoC in 2017 to head up the company’s Bristol, UK, engineering team. Baines told us it was serendipitous that Hlond was looking to move ‘back home to Poland’ just as UltraSoC was looking to establish a presence in the European Union.

With the funding, UltraSoC also aims to expand customer support and commercial presence in Europe, the USA, Japan and China. In total, Baines said it plans to double the size of its workforce by the end of 2020, from its current 35 people.

UltraSoC said it has had a successful period of growth and new technology developments within the last year, both in terms of revenues and licensees. Baines said they don’t quote revenue, but the firm now has 20 licensees. He commented, “The technology is also very ‘sticky’, so we have a 100% retention rate – our customers invariably become repeat customers.” Early in 2019, it announced data storage firm Seagate had licensed its technology, and that it is supporting Western Digital’s SweRV processor architecture. It also recently announced Alibaba company C-SKY, Esperanto, Kraftway and Microchip as customers. Its core technology improvements include development of its architecture to address high-performance computing and exascale systems, a solution targeting automotive lockstep applications, and an expanded ecosystem for heterogeneous designs incorporating the RISC-V open source architecture, and new patents.

UltraSoC’s latest funding brings the total amount raised to £19 million, and this round brought in cybersecurity-focused venture capital firm eCAPITAL, and Seraphim Capital, a specialist investor in the space ecosystem. They joined earlier investors Indaco Venture Partners, Octopus Ventures, Oxford Capital, Techgate, and business angel Guillaume d’Eyssautier.

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