Protect unmanned systems against unauthorized access

Written by Drone

Whether on land, on water, or in the air: Automated and (partially) autonomous systems are increasingly becoming regular road users and have to be integrated into manned aviation, for example. Therefore, in addition to the technical functionality, security mechanisms must also be created in order to be able to protect unmanned systems against unauthorized access, for example. The aim of the XANDER research project under the direction of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is to develop tools for integrating these so-called “non-functional requirements” into the process of software and hardware development from the very beginning. Software and hardware for networked embedded systems must meet the highest requirements in terms of security, real-time capability, and energy and resource efficiency. For example, the Joint Research Center of the EU Commission and the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) presented a joint report on cybersecurity risks in connection with artificial intelligence (AI) in autonomous vehicles on February 11, 2021, in which they Advocate a by-design approach in the development of AI functions in autonomous vehicles. 

The XANDER project, which was started at the beginning of the year and coordinated by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, aims precisely at this philosophy of implementing the security aspect directly during technology development. Eight partners from science and business, including BMW and the German Aerospace Center, want a complete toolchain for software development and hardware-software integration for complex applications on future processor platforms such as in autonomous vehicles in the next three years and develop concepts for urban air mobility. 

Because, especially in the case of networked embedded systems for complex applications, the future development depends not least on questions of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  The software not only has to fulfill special functions, but it also has to meet so-called non-functional requirements such as security, data protection, reliability, accuracy, real-time capability, energy, and resource efficiency. Autonomous vehicles and drones, for example, have to be protected against breakdowns and unauthorized interference in order to protect people, machines, and the environment from harm.

“The parameters relevant to the non-functional requirements must be determined early in the software development process and consistently implemented in further system development,” explains Professor Jürgen Becker, spokesman for the institute management at the KIT Institute for Information Processing Technology (ITIV). The engineering scientist coordinates the new EU project XANDER (X-by-Construction Design framework for Engineering Autonomous & Distributed Real-time Embedded Software Systems). What is called “Security-by-Design” in the current report of the Joint Research Center of the EU Commission and the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) is called “X-by-Construction” in the plans of the XANDER project group. 

Among other things, so the hope is that solutions can be implemented deep in the system structure in this way in order to be able to protect unmanned systems against unauthorized interference and to make them resistant to external attacks. “We provide programmers and system developers with a standardized toolchain with which they can control automated hardware-software system integration according to all relevant criteria, especially at an early stage of the design process. With X-by-Construction we are establishing a new, integrated method that significantly improves quality, reduces risks, and cuts costs, ”explains Becker.

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