Tomu: A Microcontroller for Your USB Port

Looking for a ultra tiny development board? Tomu is an ARM Cortex M0+ device that fits inside your USB port. We’ve seen these in person, and they’re tiny.

There’s a few commercial devices in this form factor on the market. For example, the Yubikey Nano emulates a keyboard to provide codes for two-factor authentication. The Yubikey’s tiny hardware does this job well, but the closed-source device isn’t something you can modify.

Tomu is a new device for your USB port. It sports a Silicon Labs EFM32 microcontroller, two buttons, and two LEDs. This particular microcontroller is well suited to the task. It can talk USB without a crystal for timing, and has an internal regulator to generate the core voltage from a 5 V USB supply. Since it supports DFU firmware updates, it can be reprogrammed without any special tools.

Unfortunately, the EFM32 device lacks secure storage options, so the Tomu might not be the best device to keep your secrets on. That being said, it will be interesting to see what applications people come up with. The creators have suggested using the device for media buttons, sleeping and waking a computer, and as a U2F key.

The project is currently available on CrowdSupply, and all design files and source is available on their Github. If you like soldering tiny things, the twelve-part bill of materials should be fairly easy to assemble at home.

Turning A Teensy Into A U2F Key

Last month, GitHub users were able to buy a special edition Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) security key for just five bucks. [Yohanes] bought two, but wondered if he could bring U2F to other microcontrolled devices. he ended up building a U2F key with a Teensy LC, and in the process brought U2F to the unwashed masses.

Universal 2nd Factor is exactly what it says on the tin: it doesn’t replace your password, but it does provide a little bit of extra verification to prove that the person logging into an account is indeed the person that should. Currently, Google (through Gmail and Google Drive), Github, Dropbox, and even WordPress (through a plugin) support U2F devices, so a tiny USB key that’s able to provide U2F is a very useful device.

After digging into the U2F specification [Yohanes] found the Teensy LC would be a perfect platform for experimentation. A U2F device is just a USB HID device, which the Teensy handles in spades. A handy library takes on ECC for both AVR and ARM platforms and [Yohanes’] finished U2F implementation is able to turn the Teensy LC into something GitHub was selling for $5.

It should be noted that doing anything related to security by yourself, with your own code is dumb and should not be considered secure. Additionally, [Yohanes] didn’t want to solder a button to his Teensy LC, so he implemented everything without a button press, which is also insecure. The ‘key handle’ is just XOR encryption with a fixed key, which is also insecure. Despite this, it’s still an interesting project and we’re happy [Yohanes] shared it with us.