MADISON, Wis. -- It's not hard to imagine cars in the future literally becoming "smart cards on wheels" especially if Freescale Semiconductor has its way.
Undoubtedly, cars will be programmed to store more information -- well beyond the driver's identity, whereabouts, credit card numbers, and confidential emails he or she might be reading in the car.
Picture yourself going to a drive-through McDonalds or a gas station.
Ronald McDonald already knows your car and credit card number, and he's eager to make the transaction easy for you. No need to wrestle a wallet out of your hip pocket or the bottom of a handbag.
Somehow, your car has revealed your credit card numbers to Ronald, but how does the car know? You never told the car.
You didn't have to. The car sucked that information out of your iPhone the first time you slipped it into your car's iPhone dock. "Remember, your iPhone has an Apple ID, and that Apple ID has your credit number," explained Davide Santo, Freescale's safety and chassis segment manager based in Munich.
Santo was merely suggesting what's technically feasible. He was neither saying this has been already commonly done nor endorsing the idea of cars doubling as credit cards.
But it is a fact that private or confidential driver information stored in the high-tech dashboard of the very near future could be exposed, extracted, and exploited -- without the driver's knowledge -- if the automaker fails to take proper security measures.
Richard Soja, distinguished member of the technical staff at Freescale Semiconductor, explained that the purpose of automotive security is manifold. It involves safety, reliability, protecting financial assets, and preventing the extraction of confidential information.
Hackers vs. engineers
While the automotive industry is becoming more aware of security issues, the potential security holes inside a car could be many. The problem is that it's hard to spot those holes in advance.
"To protect against attacks, you need to think like attackers," said Soja, in a recent interview with EE Times.
And there's the rub. You could call it the "hacker vs. engineer" gap. These are two different technology types who do not think alike.
Soja, who has been working on Freescale's 32-bit automotive SoC architecture, noted: "Engineers, by nature, are good at creating positive things and coming up with new ideas." But the idea of destroying their beautiful, brand-new ideas doesn't come naturally to engineers. Asking engineers to think like a hacker is a tall order, Soja explained.
One fundamental security advance developed by the auto industry is an industry spec called SHE (Secure Hardware Extension). As long as automotive microcontrollers are compliant to the spec, regardless of which chip vendors developed them, different microcontrollers used in different ECUs inside a car should be able to securely communicate among themselves.
Soja explained that the basic security functions necessary in automotive electronics include: a) to be able to detect and authenticate, if a code has been modified; b) to be able to take action against hacked code. The worst case is a malicious code makes the operating system in an ECU deviate unexpectedly from its normal, anticipated functions.
Freescale's CSE and secure-boot process provide a chain-on-trust for vehicle security applications
Integrating a hardware secure module (HSM) inside an automotive SoC and separating the two by a firewall enables the HSM to operate in a secure environment. This has become a standard approach to which both Freescale and Infineon subscribe.
In Freescale's case, a device called a "cryptographic services engine (CSE)" is the HSM. The CSE has its own processor core - in this case, Freescale's Coldfire. The SoC is SHE-compliant, said Soja.