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Basics of automotive instrument cluster architectures (Part 2)

28 Sep 2015  | Deepak Mahajan, Vikas Agarwal, Arjun Pal Chowdhury

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Read Part 1 of this series here.


With the increased complexity of vehicle electronics, a large number of status information must be displayed to the driver. The instrument cluster is the primary data source for the driver, delivering information regarding a vehicle and its engine status. Given today's system complexity, it is increasingly important to provide user friendly, lucrative, and cost-effective solutions that support a wide range of automotive cluster applications. In the second part of the series, we discuss cluster security requirement and application, device memory requirement, and low power mode cluster architecture.


Device security
Highly integrated automotive systems demand the highest safety and security possible. Secure hardware solutions should have sufficient capability to protect application code and data storage from illegal or unwanted access by hackers. Using secure hardware, application software can also detect tampering of application code and data and take necessary action. Modules capable of producing cryptographic functions can be used by application software to build such well-known security specification as "SHE," which is globally accepted by big car makers like GM, BMW, VW, AUDI, and more.

New technologies make everyday life more convenient: We shop, conduct banking transactions, attend to life online, and use keyless systems for opening cars and doors. However, new technologies often harbor new risks. Weak points in inadequately secured systems permit identity theft and spying, data manipulation, or even counterfeiting.

Basic hardware security is required for a cluster device and advanced security concepts help make vehicles more secure.


Basic security
Device authentication: Currently, when data is transmitted via air, just performing secure communication by encrypting a message is not sufficient. Ensuring that the data received is from the authentic sender is also important as devices should be able to prove that they are trustworthy. A unique identifier or even a cryptographic identifier for a device today is not secure enough if it is completely generated by software. Instead a trustworthy platform should be used that performs device authentication based on cryptographic keys generated through a True Random Number Generator and performing the comparison of the generated code with a highly secure pre-programmed code stored in a highly secure memory region.

Secure boot: There is a possibility of a security threat by hacking into device boot code and bypassing all the security checks during device boot-up. Thus, it is critical to secure the device boot process. Based on the criticality of the application, the device may choose to implement a strict or a relaxed boot check. As an example, in a strict boot check, the device may refuse to start up and may get stuck if the secure boot fails, or it may continue with device operation and inform one of the ECU of the secure boot failure which may then take any other desired action in a relaxed boot check.

Memory read/write/erase protection: It is critical to protect the memory region from being accessed via malicious code where the secure information or cryptographic keys used for device authentication or other security operation are stored. The secure memory region should only be accessible by the authentic code. The device should be capable of self reset or indicate the security module of the device in case there is a breach, or someone tries to access secure memory.

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