Google’s Project Vault: A Tiny Secure Computer Inside of a MicroSD Card

Google has recently presented a new project it has been working on at the Google I/O developers’ conference. The project carries the name Project Vault and is aimed at increasing the security through a rather unconventional approach. 

To achieve that, Google took an unusual approach – instead of securing the host devices directly, Google decided to create a new device altogether. A tiny super-secure computer that fits into a MicroSD card and can be inserted into a smartphone or any other device for increased security.

Project Vault is a full computer packed into a MicroSD card and in addition to the high-capacity storage of a regular MicroSD card, it features:

  • An ARM-based processor
  • An antenna
  • A near-field communication (NFC) for communicating with nearby devices
  • 4 gigabytes of “isolated, sealed” internal storage
  • Its ultra-secure operating system focused on privacy and data security
  • A suite of cryptographic services

The main function of the device is to encrypt communications and provide an additional authentication method, making your password a secondary authentication step, thus making your device much more secure –in fact, once set up, you will no longer need to use passwords, claims Google. Project Vault will also allow users to encrypt videos.

To take advantage of the encryption functionality, both devices involved in the encrypted communication will need to be equipped with Vault. The benefit of Vault is that the device it’s inserted in, will not actually do any of the encrypting/decrypting – rather, it is done by Vault. Additionally, the host device will not have access to the encryption keys or algorithms – making it much more secure.

Vault runs a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) that was custom-designed for the device. It contains a number of cryptographic features, including hashing, batch encryption, signing, and a hardware random number generator. Vault is compatible with all major operating systems, including Android, Windows, Linux, and Apple’s OS X.

Although Project Vault is not yet ready to be released to the consumers, Google has already published the source-code for the system on GitHub, allowing developers to take a crack at it under the open-source license.

While Project Vault might be of interest to consumers at some point, it is currently mainly aimed at business users – since many industries, from healthcare, to finance and legal, require an encryption to secure communications.