A secure element is a type of hardware chip that runs a specified number of applications.
What Is a Secure Element?
A secure element (SE) is a hardware chip designed to run a specified number of applications, support controlled access and store confidential data. The secure element microprocessor chip is ideal for dealing with payment information, personal identification numbers (PIN), passwords and other sensitive information depending on its area of application. In crypto, it is mostly used to permanently seal and protect the private key in hardware wallets like Ledger and CoolWallet and comes with a largely arbitrary CC EAL rating of 1-7. For example, when used in the identity industry, SE interacts with certificates and biometric data. Some devices that employ SE technology include mobile phones and cold wallets.
A secure element’s key feature is the restriction of access, which allows it to provide unparalleled security. The chip enhances this security by accommodating only pre-installed programs and limiting read and/or write privileges to trusted devices and apps such as point of sale terminals and virtual storage.
Secure elements come in different forms, such as UICCs (universal integrated circuit cards) and microSD hardware cards. Additionally, SE is available with an embedding option that enables it to be pinned on a device’s motherboard. This category of secure elements can either be embedded UICCs or embedded SEs.
Furthermore, other forms of SE operate on the cloud, which brings down the cost of operating a physical hardware chip on a host device. Additionally, a cloud-based SE provides a smooth user experience without abandoning the security provided by microprocessors.
When applied on the hardware level, SE is capable of detecting alterations and hacking attempts. Other features include providing a secure memory to store critical private data such as encryption keys and the generation of key combinations to drive asymmetric encryption.
SE is crucial in critical areas such as authentication, digital signatures, contactless or NFC payments, cryptocurrency wallets, storing biometric data, etc.