Pervasive network connectivity increasingly forces engineers to confront and solve a wide range of technical security and reliability issues. Very few product classes remain that are not racing to feature Internet accessibility, and the resulting vulnerability has become an inevitable challenge. The more embedded devices operate in open network environments, the more security becomes a horizontal technology issue for virtually every embedded design. But embedded system developers have classically faced steep cost, and time-to-market compromises in exchange for ensuring consistently reliable operation and security.
Automotive telematics serves to illustrate the need for embedded security and reliability assurance, and how the blending of hardware and software technologies can eliminate the previously inevitable compromise between security, cost, and time-to-market.
Ensuring reliability and security in the 'open' car
For embedded systems, security is directly coupled with system reliability, as opposed to the data integrity and privacy issues relevant to enterprise computing applications. An unsecured embedded device is inherently an unreliable device (and vice versa), resulting in consequences that range from minor nuisance to grave physical danger.
And as systems and networks grow in complexity, techniques used by hackers, or worse, who would aim to compromise security also become more sophisticated. In a typical modern car, for example, there can be on the order of 50 embedded control units interconnected via possibly five different communication bus technologies (for example, SAE J1850 and CAN), all of which are fair game for errant code or malicious tampering. What is worse, with wireless networks, physical contact with the internal buses or the car itself is not even required to involve externally generated corruption, either unintentional or malicious.
Automotive telematics, which are intrinsically embedded systems, are inevitably evolving to integrate a wide range of communication, information, navigation, and entertainment functionality. Such feature-rich systems include telecommunication functions that originate or end inside the vehicle, effectively exposing critical control systems to the outside world. A vision of a network-connected car has naturally motivated innovators, but as a potential target for wrongdoers or sloppy data transmissions, the networked vehicle can be a life-threatening nightmare.
To address these risks, next-generation vehicles demand underlying hardware and software that can provide the most rigorous security, operational reliability, and real-time performance. Anything less compromises the safety of these vehicles.
But even with quality and safety front and center for carmakers, the automotive marketplace is a cost-driven environment where bill of materials and profit margins are key concerns for manufacturers, sometimes even at the expense of innovation. In the 1980s, for example, initial sales of optional airbags were so poor that General Motors pulled them off the market. Later, however, costs came down and price-elastic consumer demand changed, along with legislation, and now every new vehicle has airbags.
Clearly there can be no waiting around for cost miracles to occur before cars and other safety-critical embedded systems advance to become uncompromisingly reliable and secure. The potential for catastrophic system failures is otherwise simply too great.