After a period of some skepticism, US car makers' interest in automotive security appears to be rising.
At the request of Freescale's North American automotive customers, Soja said, "In some instances, we had already gone inside the core, reprogrammed it in order to add powerful enhancements to it." Such upgrades include providing hardware support for running RSA Asymmetric algorithms.
Freescale's Qorivva MPC5777M MCU, introduced late last year and billed as "the world's most advanced powertrain microcontroller" by the company, was designed to advance the security features. While it's built on the same basic CSE architecture, the quad-core Qorivva MPC5777M MCU (based on Power architecture), manufactured by using a 55nm process, is integrated with "a number of additional hardware interfaces in the microcontroller," according to Soja. Compared to competitors' solutions, he claimed that extra security features are added on the chip level. "For example, tamper-detection is now embedded in hardware," he noted, to record any unauthorized reprogramming of flash.
Another important feature of MPC5777M is "security life-cycle management system," Soja said. From the moment a chip comes out of a wafer fab to its installation and testing inside a vehicle, to its eventual delivery to a customer, the chip "increases its security state" as it moves up the food chain. More important, "it is irreversible," Soja said. You can't go back to lighter security.
For example, fresh out of a fab, the chip has no code and no confidentiality. The security necessary to protect it is low. But once the chip is deployed in a vehicle, then tested, the chip is exposed to a number of security risks.
Freescale's experience in flash memory
Soja took issue with competitors who have characterized Freescale as weak in smart card background. Soja explained that the privacy/confidential information in a "smartcards on wheels" is stored in flash memory -- embedded inside the microcontroller of an ECU. "Freescale has a long history of flash memory, and we know how to protect [confidential information] in secure memory behind firewalls," he stressed.
Further, the flash memory embedded in a microcontroller is "of automotive quality," Soja said, meaning "it has to last a much longer period of time -- 20 to 50 years."
Before Freescale was spun out of Motorola, the company had a smart card business unit serving the banking and financial market. Motorola also dealt with smart cards for set-top boxes. Freescale today is leveraging that history and applying it in networking, smart metering and automotive, he said.
The automotive industry's efforts to foster security have only begun recently.
When asked about the challenges ahead, Soja talked of the upcoming Intelligent Transport System (ITS) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication.
"There have been to a lot of workshops and consortiums" on these topics, said Soja. "But we really need to understand how all these new things work, and how they are set up to interact with a vehicle's communication system."
With a goal to create "smarter" use of transport networks, ITS, for example, is believed to offer traffic management and other useful services, by linking a vehicle's communications with sources on the road -- like signage.
Similarly, V2V communication will play an important role, on the theory that non-human communication between cars can prevent collisions.
But more communication with the external world poses more potential for security risks.
Those who architect automotive electronics -- in long development cycles -- need to understand the new systems and their architectures better in order to make next-gen automotive SoCs more secure, even if they might not prove to be entirely hacker-proof.