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Lightning Cable Found to Contain Texas Instruments Security Chip

The buzz around the Apple Lightning cable is obvious: the company dropped a nearly decade-old dock connector in favor of the smaller, Lightning cable dock connector, boosting its performance using adaptive technology, which is used to enable a variety of functions through just eight contact pins.

Apple Lightning cable chip
Yet this isn't the only innovation Apple has implemented in its Lightning cable. According to previous reports from Double Helix Cables, it features integrated authentication chips, making cloning much more difficult (but not impossible), as the illuminated Lightning cable clone shows.

The guys from Chipworks however, have taken their time breaking down the Lightning cable in order assess the viability of the cloning and the inner components that contribute to the enhanced security of the cable. During their teardown (to complete the iPhone 5 blog series) they found four chips in the Lightning cable, two of which were very simple. The third was an NXP NX20P3 (an unclassified chip from NXP Semiconductors) and the fourth, a Texas Instruments chip.

Lightning cable inside TI die

A closer look at the chips revealed the chip die markings of "BQ2025", which don't appear in Texas Instruments’ published datasheets. Instead, four other chips appear (BQ2022, BQ2023, BQ2024, and BQ2026) which are catalogued as battery fuel gauges, but they aren't identical to that which Chipworks saw during the teardown.

Yet despite this, the chip carries the security elements within the aforementioned four chips, and the BQ2025 has some basic security features such as CRC (Cyclic Redundancy Check) generation, so it is certainly likely that the TI chip does have some enhanced security implemented onto it, Chipworks writes.

At this stage, the Lightning cable is far from the mobile security described in the Apple patent, yet it does show that Apple has made the first step towards making portable devices more secure, and we can expect to see further enhancements with each new generation.

It is actually very interesting that we may have found a security device in this cable. Previously, we have analyzed security devices regarding medical printer media (armbands), printer cartridges, flash drive memory, batteries, and smart cards, but this is the first secure cable we have seen. The security does not come close to the herculean approaches that are used in (for example) today’s printer cartridges, but resembles the level of effort that cartridge manufacturers used to implement in the olden days. This is likely a calculated decision by Apple to keep costs to a minimum knowing that their core customer base prefers to shop in Apple stores or for brand name peripherals. In these places, piracy is not a concern. In other words, at this time the security is “just enough.”

As the Chipworks post highlights, Apple's Lightning cable is the first to carry security features, although in its current version we can talk only about basic security features at most. The Lightning cable's security is in fact simliar to what cartridge manufacturers used to implement in the olden days, so by today's standards, nothing to write home about just yet. [Via MacRumors, Chipworks]

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