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Glossary

Over-the-air software updates

What is an over-the-air software update?

An over-the-air (OTA) software update, often referred to simply as an OTA update, is a mechanism for remotely updating and upgrading the software or firmware of a device in the field without requiring a physical connection.

OTA updates provide new features and software patches to maintain the functionality and security of various devices, including smartphones and IoT devices.

Why OTA software updates?

OTA software updates reduce the need for on-site access to devices, allowing large-scale deployments of updates and enabling manufacturers to promptly address bugs and security vulnerabilities. Some implementations allow the manufacturer to enforce the OTA update to ensure critical security issues are fixed immediately.

The majority of security vulnerabilities, most notably microarchitectural vulnerabilities such as Spectre and Meltdown, are mitigated through microcode, firmware, or software updates. Updating the hardware (in combination with software updates) would offer more robust mitigation with better performance and stronger security assurance.

Partial reconfiguration of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) is a technique that allows one part of the FPGA to be reconfigured without affecting the integrity of the entire system. It can be seen as a hardware counterpart to OTA updates as it allows for hardware modifications during runtime. Unlike FPGAs, application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) are not reconfigurable in the field. Once manufactured, their hardware configuration is fixed, and it cannot be changed or updated at runtime.

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