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Secure embedded Systems: Against the Hacker in the Boiler Room

This spring, a mini combined heat and power unit (mini CHP) from a major heating system manufacturer attracted attention due to a security vulnerability. The plant can be controlled and maintained via the internet, but in doing so it also opened the door to hackers via its network connection. Cars, aeroplanes and industrial control systems are also being controlled by more and more computer systems and are becoming increasingly networked with their environment. In order to protect these highly sensitive systems from attacks, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have started the SIBASE research project together with partners from industry and science.

The special thing about combined heat and power units is that they generate electricity as well as heat and feed it into the public grid. Via the internet, many mini CHP units in single-family homes can be interconnected to form virtual power plants with considerable output. But this makes them vulnerable to IT attackers. Hackers could up- or down-regulate the plants, which could lead to frost or heat damage. This is just one example of networked industrial systems, as considered under the buzzword Industry 4.0. Equally dangerous would be attacks on cars, aircraft or even applications such as telemedicine. In all these machines, so-called embedded systems are at work whose controls have a direct influence on the world outside of bits and bytes, i.e. on the real, material world.

In order to protect such networked systems, but also to shield know-how, intellectual property and privacy, researchers from the Technical University of Munich have launched the SIBASE project (Security Building Blocks for Secure Embedded Systems) with partners from the Munich Security Network.

Building Blocks for safe embedded Systems

In embedded systems, the design of hardware and software must be very closely coupled in the development process. For secure embedded systems, it is therefore necessary to design both the hardware and the software from the beginning in such a way that no security vulnerabilities arise. In SIBASE, secure IT architectures are therefore first researched and then their implementation in hardware and software. In the process, special hardware security elements with physically unique fingerprints are to be connected to secure operating systems.

The results will then be implemented in demonstrators and tested in the automotive, avionic, industrial and electromobility sectors. In order to be able to subsequently assess the security actually achieved, the project partners are simultaneously researching new attacks against which the systems are then secured. For a quick design of such secure systems, the TU Munich is researching special security design tools. In this way, a construction kit of hardware and software elements, test methods and tools is being created that will make future networked systems much more secure.

In addition to the Technical University of Munich (consortium leader), the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft as scientific partner, as well as EADS, genua, Giesecke & Devrient, Infineon Technologies AG, Mixed Mode, SYSGO and Siemens are participating in the research project "SIBASE - Security Building Kit for Secure Embedded Systems". The project is being funded over three years as part of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) funding programme and has a total volume of around 14.5 million euros.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Georg Sigl
Technische Universität München
Institute for Security in Information Technology
T: +49 89 289-28250


Original press release by the Technical University of Munich - All rights reserved

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