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It’s safety first at Embedded Systems Conference

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Getting on a commercial airliner for a flight is safer than getting into your automotive vehicle for a drive. That’s not because the average jet pilot is better trained and more alert than most drivers on the morning commute.

For decades, the Federal Aviation Administration has imposed regulations on safety-critical components of airliners. For U.S. cars, there are no safety-critical component regulations for manufacturing, because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and other federal agencies don’t have the authority to issue such regulations. Congress will have to act to authorize those regulations. And we all know how quick Congress is to legislate these days (note: sarcasm intended).

Discussion of safety-critical technology became very timely this week at the Embedded Systems Conference Silicon Valley in Santa Clara, California, with the news about how security researchers were able to remotely take control of a Jeep Cherokee’s systems, turning off the transmission and other functions.

Verocel, a software and system verification company, has worked with Boeing, London Underground, Rockwell Collins, and other customers to make sure their safety-critical software and systems adhere to all applicable industry standards and government regulations. “We get software from customers, and make sure it’s acceptable to the authorities,” says CEO George Romanski.

“Safety standards are pretty much the same,” he adds. “We’re standard-agnostic. We make sure the company does certification the same way (with each customer). We have a kind of different attitude toward safety,” not settling for the good-enough policies of certain regulators, Romanski says. Verocel includes a warranty for its work.

About two-thirds of AdaCore’s customers are in the aerospace industry, according to Jamie Ayre, the company’s marketing director. AdaCore, which provides commercial software for the Ada programming language, targeting safety, security, and reliability applications, also counts communications companies, financial firms, and railroads among its customers. “We work closely with Verocel,” Ayre says.

In addition to working on the Boeing 787 airliner and other military/aerospace products, AdaCore aids other industries subject to strict safety-critical regulations. Areas that don’t have such regulation include automotive vehicles, drones, and robotics, Ayre notes.

Representatives of the Trusted Computing Group, an industry association, were on hand at ESC Silicon Valley to give presentations and speak about the group’s initiatives in making the Internet of Things and other electronic systems safer and more secure.

Steve Hanna, senior principal of technical marketing in the Chip Card & Security business of Infineon Technologies, gave a presentation on “The Untrusted IoT: A Path to Securing Billions of Insecure Devices” to an overflowing audience on Tuesday morning.

“There is no such thing as bug-free software. There is no such thing as invulnerable devices,” Hanna said in an interview at the conference. “How do we deal with these vulnerabilities?”

The answer, for the IoT, cars, and other products depending on electronics hardware and software, is to develop trusted systems, “designed to be predictable, even under stress,” Hanna asserted. “Software security is not enough. We have to build in a hardware root of trust.”

TCG’s approach employs the group’s Trusted Platform Module and Trusted Network Connect specifications, which are already found in many networks, PCs, servers, smartphones, and tablet computers. TCG presented and demonstrated the technology three months ago at the SAE 2015 World Congress & Exhibition in Detroit, a conference put on by SAE International.

TCG this week published an architecture guide for IoT security, aspects of which can be applied to automotive electronics, according to Hanna. The group has an Auto Security Initiative to protect the integrity of engine control units and to secure data communications, which it demonstrated at ESCSV’s Demo Hall.

Hanna added that TCG is out to show how technology can provide greater safety and security for many applications, and also to save money for manufacturers. And that last aspect could help seal the deal for safer, more secure cars and other products dependent on electronics.

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