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Telematics boom drives need to boost car security

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:car security? telematics? consumer electronics? automotive?

The rising complexity of the vehicle's electronic inner lifer and the increasing exposure to telematics and consumer electronics now enforces a more open discussion on security issues.

Cars are increasingly turning into rolling data centers. In high-end vehicles, up to 80 microcontrollers are doing their task in a highly networked environment. Communication to and from the outside world is growing not only in terms of frequency but also with respect to its potential impact on car functions. At a congress organized by German engineering professional organization VDI along with Volkswagen, experts discussed the threat potential arising from external connectivity and internal complexity to cars.

The threat potential becomes imaginable on the consideration that most systems determining the driving dynamics of today's cars are controlled by microprocessors/engine control units (ECUs) which in turn get their signals across a network of distributed sensors and from other ECUs. For this reason, safety and security aspects are connected, explained Kay Werthschulte from engineering company Elektroniksystem- und Logistik GmbH.

The industry hitherto had no uniform and sweeping comprehensive approach to handle the set of problems. "With regard to the internal communication between such functions, each OEM uses his own solution which means it is not based on standards," Werthschulte stated.

Solutions available typically include encryption technology. One of the issues the industry is brooding about is the question if symmetric or asymmetric solutions are the better way. While asymmetric approaches are regarded by many as more safe and flexible, they require a public key infrastructure within the car, and in an increasing number of cases, in the communication between cars and the infrastructure or in the automatic exchange of data between vehicles (car-to-car communication). Public key infrastructures however require relatively ample processing resources and raise challenges in real-time environments.

These considerations increasingly inspire the designers and scientists to make use of Trusted Computing Platforms or Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs) like they are used in some PCs to protect critical data and communication processes. Such a module for instance plays a role in a trustable and reconfigurable communication platform for Car-to-x communications presented by Benjamin Glas from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). In the discussion, many participants agreed that the processing power of available microprocessors is not sufficient to handle complex encryption schemes and that hardware accelerators such as TPMs are necessary to execute these tasks.

Another approach developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure IT Systems (Fraunhofer SIT) in Garching near Munich and BMW took in account the need of distributed in-car systems to communicate and to interact without compromising security. The system also reflected one of BMWs favorite ideas of centralizing processing power within the car in order to get the excessive complexity under control. The concept provides for standardized interfaces, multifunctional ECUs and the option for open communication with the outside world. Again, the concept included a TPM to boost hardware security processing power.

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