Harman has developed a sophisticated security system to keep drivers safe on the information superhighway
Not long ago the concept of automotive cyber security didn’t even exist. Cars and their occupants were isolated from the outside world – at least in electronic terms. Since the advent of the connected car all that’s changed, though. There’s now a very serious threat that hackers, criminals or even terrorists could attempt to seize control of cars or the data stored within them.
As with all forms of cybercrime the likelihood is that this would be attempted for some sort of financial gain. The obvious targets are things like credit card details or personal information held within the car. But perhaps an even more unsettling prospect is that of ransomware. It’s not hard to imagine the driver being locked in or out of the car until a sum of money is paid. Worse still, attackers could attempt to disable the brakes or steering while the car is on the move.
A number of cases of ‘car hacking’ have already made the headlines, but these are not quite as they appear. So far, all instances have been the work of engineers or researches manipulating the car under controlled conditions. But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t trying to gain access to cars and it certainly doesn’t rule out future attacks.
To protect against such attacks automotive electronics giant HARMAN has developed what it refers to as its 5+1 security architecture. This uses a series of layers to protect the car’s safety-critical functions and isolate any potential threats.
At the deepest level, a secure hardware platform provides a safe place to store things like PIN numbers and passwords. Safety-critical functions are then isolated from the infotainment system using a hypervisor. This gives the system the ability to create separate virtual machines on the same hardware. By separating out safety-critical functions from the infotainment system it drastically reduces the chances of an infection spreading from one to the other.
The third element is a policy-driven access control system that ensures that apps running on the car are only allowed to access the memory, storage and hardware systems that they need.
Next comes a sandbox function, which isolates newly downloaded applications in a safe place where they can be disabled and removed if necessary.
The fifth level, TCUSHIELD or ECUSHIELD, is the network protection system controls the flow of information into and out of the car, looking for any signs of intrusion. It uses heuristic algorithms to spot patterns that suggest that a threat might be attempting to disguise itself as a legitimate function.
Finally, the ‘plus one’ level is an over-the-air update (OTA) function. Although not strictly part of the protection system itself, this ensures the software can be kept up to date to respond to the latest threats and developments.
Between them, these six elements provide an unrivalled combination of threat detection and prevention. Automotive cyber security may be a relatively new topic, but it’s already very well served.