Linux and its various brothers, cousins and offspring have been the operating system platform of just about everything that isn’t Windows. In fact, the upcoming issue of Applied Wireless Technology has a missive from a thought leader that discusses the shortcoming of Linux.
Concerns about the security of the father of Linux, Unix, are coming to light in more than just smartphones, which is the topic of the missive. Specifically, with vehicles fast becoming a connected component of the wireless ecosystem, its vulnerabilities need to be addresses.
Unix’s biggest challenge, from a security standpoint as well as its most powerful strength, is that it is open source code. In the past, most hackers went after big targets such as businesses, because that is where the money is. However, once smartphones became the primary bucket for confidential data, hackers realized that it is a very opportunistic channel that can reap big rewards, as well.
Now as to the automotive segment, the realization of the potential black hole of compromise that the standard Unix environment can enable has created awareness around patching Unix. That comes in the form of something called Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) and GENIVI. AGL just launched the UCB 4.0 platform and GENIVI the Development Platform 12. Both address the same issue, just different approaches.
These platforms deal with the mobile device connectivity platform that has become a major component of the integrated in-vehicle infotainment systems, which include entertainment, information, or internet-connectivity applications. It also now has evolved to handle mechanisms like wirelessly transmitted information connecting the car to local- or wide-area (the cloud) networks, and advanced driver assistance system data.
The direction these alliances want to follow is to accelerate the development and adoption of a fully open software stack for the connected car. The basic kernel, middleware, and app framework (about 70 percent of the stack) will be common and shared among manufacturers and suppliers. It is called the Unified Code Base infotainment platform. The remaining percentage of the stack is available for customization by OEMs and device vendors, i.e. features specific to the app or device.
The final challenge to this is to add security layers. It is difficult with Unix because anybody can look at the code. There are ways to encrypt these codes but it that hasn’t been ubiquitously considered for a number of reasons, cost, overhead, and such. However, it is starting to bubble up on the radar screen.
In any event, the powers that be are realizing that if UNIX is going to be the go-to code for the diversity of mobile platforms, there has to be a way to secure it – and not just a software layer over the hardware, which is the common approach in most cases.
Ernest Worthman is the Executive Editor of Applied Wireless Technology magazine. A Life Member of the IEEE, his 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT.