‘Think evil’ to thwart the bad guys, says design expert

28 January 2013
By Chris Edwards
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Military aircraft require sophisticated software systems

Military aircraft require sophisticated software systems

Embedded-systems designers must pay more attention to how their systems can be compromised, and should "think evil, do good" in implementing security by design, says industry insider Stuary McClure.

McClure, a former McAfee executive and now head of startup Cylance, will explain his thinking in a keynote at the Embedded World show in Nuremberg at the end of February.

The discovery in 2010 of the Stuxnet worm, aimed at the Siemens programmable logic controllers used by the Iranian government for its nuclear enrichment programme, made it clear that embedded systems were to become an important battleground in computer hacking and crime.

Since then, a number of high-profile vulnerabilities and penetrations of embedded systems have appeared, from the control systems for insulin pumps to the network routers that control access to critical infrastructure and industrial-control systems.

In a previous speech focused on embedded systems, McClure described how even good causes can be subverted. 

He showed how a Red Cross poster containing a contactless radio chip intended to let people download information onto their mobiles could be reworked to pass on viruses.

Security is a major theme at the show and conference, where people such as Greg Davis from Green Hills Software will describe how to write secure and reliable C code. 

Green Hills CEO Dan O'Dowd has argued for some years that the techniques for writing secure code are readily available and in use in critical systems on military aircraft, claiming: "The level of programming and the care that software goes through in the aircraft industry is a hundred times greater than what happens in other industries."

Aircraft-class software quality is being addressed by new standards coming into play in the automotive industry. 

As Embedded World takes place close to the heartland of the German motor industry, one key focus of the show is the recently introduced ISO26262 standard. 

Dassault Technology, Gaio Technology, iSystem and Mathworks are among the companies at the show who have developed tools with support for the standard.

At the same time, embedded systems designers are being challenged to do more with less energy.

Although this can be answered in part by using more power-efficient hardware, a key theme of the show is the use of virtual prototyping not only to do earlier and more effective testing of function but also of the way the target application uses energy. 

By reworking the way in which modules are implemented, engineers can cut the overall power consumption significantly.

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