Telemaco3 : Driving Car Security Into the 21st Century

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Cars are undeniably getting smarter, but few people understand why, and even fewer have a grasp on how to make them smarter as ST does. This is because ST has been developing telematics solutions for years, long before anyone talked about autonomous driving or smart vehicles. In keeping with that trend, ST released Telemaco3, a new family of single-chip telematics processors. However, before one can fully grasp the power and engineering that went into these new chips, we must first understand what telematics is.

Telematics is a compound word combining “telecommunications” and “infomatics”, the science of information systems. Hence, according to its strictly academic definition, telematics is the science of sending, receiving and storing information using a telecommunication standard. First coined in France in 1978, the word mostly refers today to vehicle telematics, meaning the information is about a mode of transportation (boat, car, train, plane, etc.). Furthermore, although this was not the case at first, telematics now always includes information from global navigation systems (such as the GPS) and increasingly implies the ability to remotely control a vehicle or influence its operation.

Vehicle Telematics

Telematics enhances every aspect of the driving experience.

If the meaning of the word “telematics” has changed so much over the years, it’s because since the mid–1990s, the field has been the biggest driver of innovation for the automotive industry. In its early days, “telematics” was a simple battery-powered black box that received information from the car’s sensors and sent a notification to  an emergency service when a crash was detected. It was the first time that a GPS, a cellular data modem, and a battery-powered system worked so well together, and it happened long before smartphones were commonplace.

The science of vehicle telematics has evolved to enable more and more features, such as emergency or roadside assistance, diagnostic reports sent to your garage, dealership, or personal email, in-car navigation systems, media streaming, and communication with a mobile phone, or cloud, to name a few. For instance, an electric car can schedule charging at a time when drawing current is cheaper, then alert the owner that the battery is full by sending a notification to a mobile application. New systems can even help tweak driving habits to save fuel.

Security in Telemaco3

As telematics is responsible for the gathering and transmission of more and more personal, as well as sensitive information, about the vehicle and its users, the need to secure communications and data increases exponentially. Hence, the new Telemaco3 family uses a secured CAN subsystem to parry attacks and protect users and the vehicle’s main drive-train, chassis and safety systems connected to the CAN bus.

This mechanism relies on an ARM® Cortex®-M3 core that remains segregated from the main system that runs on a dual Cortex®-A7. Because this subsystem has its own MCU, SRAM, timers, CAN controllers, and GPIOs, among many other features, it is able to gather, process, and store information independently from the rest of the platform. Hence, if hackers break into the main operating system, the subsystem remains intact and out of reach. Furthermore, a Hardware Mailbox manages communication between this subsystem and the Cortex®-A7, and will block all interaction the moment it detects an inconsistency.

The Telemaco3 chips also include a dedicated hardware cryptographic engine to optimize encryption and decryption operations. Manufacturers can implement complex cryptographic algorithms, such as AES 256, SHA512, or elliptic curve cryptography to name a few, with almost no impact on performance. The chip can also store a cryptographic key using a one-time programmable memory. A locking mechanism protects every bit to prevent changes to the cell. Thus, hackers will not be able to alter the system key, even if they manage to get a low-level access.

Security Thanks to Telemaco3

A representation of Over-The-Air (OTA) updates.

Finally, ST recently announced an initiative with Airbiquity, a service provider for connected vehicles, that allows manufacturers to easily implement over-the-air (OTA) updates in their cars using Telemaco3 components. This is a fundamentally new and an important aspect of security protocols many still ignore. The first rule of any computer security system is that “there is no such thing as perfect security”. It is estimated that there are about one to 25 bugs or vulnerabilities for every 1,000 lines of code[1].

Hence, any protocol that doesn’t plan for a backdoor, a system failure, DDOS attacks, or a potential hack, is flawed by design. By offering a quick and easy solution to implement OTA updates, ST ensures that manufacturers can immediately patch all their vehicles once they are aware of a problem. This system is also extremely cost-effective since it doesn’t necessitate recalls or a physical access to the automobile. Telemaco3 remains an open platform that will work with any connected service, but companies looking for the quickest path to market can already take advantage of the solution, designed by Airbiquity for the Telemaco3 family of processors, to protect their customers and their brand from a major catastrophe.

To know more about the latest Telemaco3 processors, please visit STMicroelectronics.

  1. Steve McConnell, Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction, Second Edition, Microsoft Press (2004)  ↩