Design Challenge: Connected & Secure Vehicles

Today's car is moving a great deal of data between its embedded processors and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to deliver the creature comforts, safety, and performance features we all have come to demand when driving a late-model vehicle. However, all these features come with a price — higher data flows and more complex semiconductors to provide the performance we seek.

The older automotive controller area network (CAN) and Flex-Ray buses are no longer up to the task of meeting these system requirements over the long term. Their days are numbered in the minds of many automotive designers. So what comes next?

Ethernet is one answer. However, cost was mentioned as a potential obstacle. A possible solution to this issue is creating a hybrid Ethernet standard to allow a lower data rate. This may have some merit, but how long will it take to hammer out a standard? If it takes too long, we may be looking at needing the higher data rates.

What comes after Ethernet? Wireless. While it would seem reasonable to predict a wireless network in an automotive application as the future networking choice by designers, in the presentations I saw at the Design Automation Conference two weeks ago, nowhere was the word “security” mentioned. I was told that, in a later session on another day which I did not attend, security was discussed, but I wanted to bring this up here to make the following point.

It seems to {complink 7526|Semico Research Corp.} that the issue of security is becoming more important, yet there is little discussion of this in the engineering community in general. It’s possible that the current discussion about security is limited to only those applications that really need it, including financial transactions, secure data networks, etc. This could be because many designers perceive that adding security functions to their silicon solutions will add cost, increase power usage, and ultimately degrade performance somewhat — all issues to be avoided.

However, the old adage, “the security is in the network,” is working less and less in the portable and mobile devices we are using. It seems to us that the same logic chain will apply to automotive networking, especially if the industry implements a wireless networking technology. Security must be considered in this environment because the automobile can assume significant importance in certain situations.

Automotive companies extensively test their products to ensure they will work in harsh environments like Alaska or the Sahara desert when someone's life may depend on a vehicle operating when the driver needs it to. Can the approach to ensuring their products are hack-proof and virus-resistant be any different when it comes to security and the data buses that are implemented in future vehicles? Definitely not!

Building in the right level of security from the beginning will be a lot easier than waiting until an “event” of some sort forces a corrective action — and it will certainly be less expensive in the long run.

12 comments on “Design Challenge: Connected & Secure Vehicles

  1. Anand
    June 20, 2011

    This could be because many designers perceive that adding security functions to their silicon solutions will add cost, increase power usage, and ultimately degrade performance somewhat


      When do you see this trend changing ? Do you feel the demand for security functions should come from the user community so that desingers start embedding those functions into the silicon ?

  2. Ms. Daisy
    June 20, 2011


    Do you feel the problem is mainly cost? Most products that have added cost often get the cost passed on to the buyer. Could it be that the designers are having problems with integration of these capabilities and worried about the  impact on vehicle performance?

  3. Anand
    June 20, 2011

    Do you feel the problem is mainly cost?

    @Ms Daisy,

     I feel cost is also major factor. May be designers treat security as  an optional feature because there is no demand from end users. I dont see how adding extra features to existing Silicon will impact the vehicle performance, at the max this can cause increase the power consumed. 

  4. Rich Wawrzyniak
    June 20, 2011

    Hi anandvy,

    As one of the other commentors pointed out, the trend will not substantially change until end users ask for better security. In effect, they must perceive the need for security before they ask for it. While I think the general public sees this need today, they don't normally associate it with something a mundane as our automotive fleet.

    However, there is a related trend in the cell phone market, through the use of Near Field Communications (NFC) to have our phones function as electronic wallets. Ultimately this means that financial data of some sort will be stored on the phone. Robust security measures must be in place – in both the phone and the system in the store it communicates with to ensure nothing untoward occurs. Once people get used to the idea of having their serious financial data on their cell phones, and the implications of not having the right level of security present, then I think there will be more acceptance of this concept for other types of devices.

    By the same token, once you put a wireless network into automobiles, I believe the same issues arise. not so much on the financial side, but in terms of other data that might be stored in the car like service records, dealership data, home address, phone number email accounts, etc. The list of thiings we are all going to decide to put into our electronic devices is going to be a very long one. Why would we treat our car any different from our phones or our notebook computers in this regard?

    Given the impact of not getting this right, I believe the engineering community in general and company management in particular needs to be out in front of this issue. We are not talking about a large increase in cost to implement security of the right complexity to get the job done. It is more of a mind-set change than a wholesale architectural change to sccomplish this. You could envision a day when the type of security functions implemented in a car becomes part of the marketing campaign for that car. Make this a positive instead of a neutral or a 'don't care'.

    The reason I brought this up was to highlight how important the discussion is to all of our future's regarding what will be possible in the coming years. The number of thigs that will be possible is going to be truly amazing compared to just a few short years ago.

    We need to consider carefully just what it is we want to do and how we want to do it. Adding the right level of security functions to our devices – whether they are in our pockets or happen to have four wheels, is important to get right if we want to see these capabilities implemented in a timely fashion.

    You may be right that the demand for security must come from the user community, but how does that demand start? I believe it starts when enough people believe there is a real need for such functions. This probably happens either when an event of some type occurs prompting a reaction, or when similar types of capabilities are added to other, already devices – like cell phones with NFC capabilities.

    Since we are at the very start of this trend, it made sense to me to bring this up now as an observation instead of a criticism. Truthfully, there is nothing to criticize yet since these types of systems have not yet been deployed. However, it won't be all that long before we reach the decision point where we'll need to decide how we implement these types of solutions.

    Thank you for your comments to my blog.

    Best regards,

    Rich Wawrzyniak

  5. Anand
    June 20, 2011

    “Since we are at the very start of this trend, it made sense to me to bring this up now as an observation instead of a criticism”


     Thanks for the reply. I totally agree with you that we are at the start of the trend. I am sure it wont be too long before security functions implemented in a car becomes part of the marketing campaign.

  6. Parser
    June 21, 2011

    Security is one thing and second is EMI and EMC. Would be very bad if a speed radar would jam car’s internal communication and thinking about it this could be done on purpose. Point a high power transmitter at spaghetti freeways. There are cell phone jammers available right now. I would very much worry about equipping cars with vulnerable wireless systems. 

  7. prabhakar_deosthali
    June 21, 2011

    Whatever network topology we use for connecting various embedded controllers within car, and whatever medium we use for network -wired or wireless, if we restrict this network to communicate only with the devices within the car then the security will be guaranteed automatically. Also if we can separate the car's internal electrnics into two categories – 1. Control Electronics  2. infotainment electronics then  we can also ensure safety by not allowing any outside interference in the control functions of the car.

  8. Daniel
    June 21, 2011

    Rich, most of the developments are happening for communication within the car or automobile. Only limited communications are happening from inside the car to external world. For example, I would like to connect my car to some external data sources which can automate some of the driving (auto pilot) with a GPRS or any navigation suits. Similarly, would like to get other parameters like tyre pressure, fuel level, internal temperature etc in my home system through gprs/wifi. Developments have to happen in similar direction, and then only we can say it’s a fully automated car.

  9. Jay_Bond
    June 21, 2011

    This is an excellent article with some very valid points. Security should be brought up more often and be tested under extreme circumstances. As today's automobiles become more like computers on wheels, we need reliability and security more than ever. If wireless is the next step in progression, what's to stop somebody from gaining access and disabling or manipulating a system? It wouldn't be hard for somebody to transmit a virus wirelessly and cause a disaster. This is something that should be thought of now, in the planning stages instead of after the fact when lives could of potentially been lost.

    June 22, 2011

    Personally I would worry about security and integrity of the physical link if wireless were used in many car subsystems.  It might be OK for non-mission critical things like remote control opening or infotainment but for critical systems concerning control or safety systems I prefer fixed physical links.  I have always thought that optical fibers would be a great solution for mass produced cars as it is already used in aircraft, militlary and high end cars.  Optical comms is fast, secure and light (excuse the pun).

  11. stochastic excursion
    June 22, 2011

    Optical data transmission is the high-speed successor to Ethernet, not wireless.  Wireless networking has inherent security vulnerabilities that make it difficult to protect mission-critical applications.

  12. t.alex
    June 26, 2011

    Automotive networking, I belive, comprises different types. For realtime, mission critical purpose, CAN or flexray is still the choice, and ethernet is definitely out of the question because it is not meant for these application. For in-car entertainment, i heard MOST has been adopted for the pas few years.

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