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Uplifting cyber security

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With the prospect of cyber attacks on vehicles rising with the popularity of car connectivity, automotive electronics specialist Harmon is pioneering a new field of on the road security.

As the prospect of cyber attacks Harman has devised a specially-developed critical communications within the car, on vehicles becomes increasingly serious, electronics giant Harman is pioneering a new field of automotive security.

With more and more vehicle users embracing the connected car concept, in theory at least, any form of wireless link – even via a separate mobile phone or tablet – could provide the conduit that hackers need to launch an attack.

“A few years ago the concept of automotive cyber security was largely con ned to industry experts,” says Harman’s Asaf Atzmon. “Now it’s a topic that consumers are asking about. According to a recent survey, in some countries as many as 59% of buyers are actively concerned about the prospect of car hacking.”

There seems to be a unique brand of fear associated with the idea of car hacking. One minute you’re driving down the road listening to your favourite radio station and the next someone remotely takes control of your car – jamming on brakes in the middle of the motorway; disabling headlights in the dead of night… None of it bears thinking about.

Of course, the reality is rather different. To date, there hasn’t been a single instance of malicious car hacking – examples that have made the headlines have involved engineers or researchers experimenting under controlled conditions. In most cases the experiments have also required a cable to be physically plugged into the car.

Harman has devised a specially-developed 5+1 security framework which consists of a series of layers that protects the car’s head unit from being compromised and used as a portal into the in-vehicle network, something which could jeopardise safety critical systems. It can be thought of like the layers of an onion:

• At the deepest level, a secure hardware platform provides a safe place to store cryptographic keys and execute highly- sensitive operations in a secured manner. Safety-critical functions are isolated from the infotainment system using what’s known as a hypervisor which allows two separate operating systems to run off the same hardware;

• The next level controls access to the memory, storage and peripherals. It essentially determines who has access to what. If, for instance, your CD player suddenly wants to control the brakes it’s a good indication that something is wrong.

• Next comes the sandbox function. This keeps newly downloaded applications separate from the core system so they can be disabled and removed if they’re found to be harmful.

• The fifth level is the network protection system. This controls the ow of information into and out of the car, looking for any signs of intrusion. Working on two levels, ECUSHIELD turns the vehicle’s ECU into an Intrusion Detection and Prevention (IDS/IPS) system with a smart rewall to protect while TCUSHIELD protects infotainment and telematics systems.

Using IDS/IPS technology, the fth level integrates with existing telematics units and uses highly advanced algorithms to protect both internal and external networks so a vehicle can operate safely while still monitoring and reporting to an external control centre.

• The final Plus One level is the ability to install over-the-air (OTA) updates to various systems within the car such as the navigation, engine management and infotainment systems. By keeping the software up to date, it helps to ensure that the car is protected at all times.

All these elements combine to produce a virtually impenetrable shield around the safety-critical functions and those which may contain personal data, such as credit card information. Harman is already working with a number of car makers to employ the technology on upcoming models.

“Ultimately, it’s all about eliminating the risk of intrusion,” says Atzmon. “The car industry will need to reassure consumers that their connected cars are safe. By 2020 it’s expected there will be nearly a quarter of a billion of them on the world’s roads.

“This number will continue to grow but only if the car industry can provide the protection that those consumers have to come to expect from their other electronic devices.”

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