New guidelines for software updates on embedded systems

Monday, 06 July, 2020

New guidelines for software updates on embedded systems

Cybersecurity for embedded systems and the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to take a step forward, with the not-for-profit Trusted Computing Group (TCG) announcing its latest guidelines and best practices for software and firmware updates for embedded systems.

Firmware and software updates are of increasing importance. Attackers constantly target the firmware and software in embedded systems, such as appliances and connected door locks, searching for vulnerabilities to exploit in order to establish a permanent foothold on the device. As a result, designers of embedded systems (ordinary items with an embedded computer) must be prepared to deliver firmware and software updates that customers must promptly install to ensure that these connected devices remain secure.

With its newly released document, TCG is sharing a set of guidelines and best practices for secure software and firmware updates. By following these guidelines, manufacturers can keep their products secure throughout the lifetime of the products, not just when they are purchased. As a result, manufacturers should be able to avoid the bad publicity, recalls and other problems caused by infected machines.

“The state of the art in information security is advancing rapidly and this is even more true for embedded systems security,” said Steve Hanna, Chair of TCG’s Embedded Systems Work Group. “We must constantly raise the bar in the way that we build and maintain these systems so that the defenders can stay ahead of the attackers.”

Driven by functionality, convenience and profit for both the manufacturer and the user, network-enabled embedded systems (IoT) are found in an ever-widening number of smart applications and platforms, including automobiles, household appliances, industrial systems and medical equipment. Increasing network connectivity in such devices allows for advanced feature sets, increased awareness and response, and faster patching and updating of system firmware and software. However, this network connectivity also results in new threats and potential issues that never previously existed in platforms.

The Stuxnet virus in 2010 that compromised programmable logic controllers (PLCs) used in the Iranian nuclear program is a prime example of the scale of attack that can occur if embedded systems are not secure. A similar attack was also successful against the Ukrainian power grid in 2015, resulting in temporary power loss for 225,000 individuals. Both incidents illustrate the potential impact of cyber attacks against embedded systems in critical infrastructure and both took advantage of weak software update mechanisms.

“As we put greater trust in things like autonomous cars, smart homes and healthcare sensors, we need to take steps to make sure connected devices are tightly secured to protect them from data breaches and hackers,” Hanna said. “Over the years TCG has developed a range of technologies to address the challenges faced by the industry, resulting in widely deployed, proven solutions. These open standards are the ideal option for delivering the security needs for embedded systems as we move towards a world where everything is connected.”

To view the new guidelines, visit the TCG website.

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