Understanding Cyber Attacks in Embedded Computing Enables Integrators and Suppliers to Consider Options

Military & Aerospace Electronics

Published in Military & Aerospace

Cyber attacks on embedded computing systems are an ever-increasing threat, and system integrators need to have an understanding of cybersecurity concepts to design-in sufficient protection. This includes understanding what commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vendors can bring to the table to mitigate the effects of cyber-attacks and ensure that their suppliers have the necessary expertise to meet their system protection requirements.

The trusted-computing task is to apply practical measures that can mitigate the effects of known cyber threats to aerospace and defense systems. Meanwhile, the battlespace is becoming ever-more computerized, from the infantry soldier with his personal radio and situational awareness, to communications with the battle group, and information coming from datalinks and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance feeds from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Consider the basic computer architecture of a personal computer. It has a processor, memory of different types, a BIOS to initialize the system, and a clock to step through the program counter. There also are I/O ports that connect the system to the outside world, and perhaps graphics for displaying data and user interfaces.

Military embedded computing systems generally share the same generic architecture as a personal computer, yet with different levels of processing power. Like the personal computer, the embedded computer also has a processor surrounded by memory. It has a clock, some form of initialization, I/O, and sometimes some graphics and power supply. One main difference is the military system may not have a keyboard, mouse, or electronic display.

Instead, the computer is part of a subsystem such as an aircraft flight-control computer, with applications that launch straight from power-up and have the ability to monitor themselves. Also, the applications might communicate with other nearby embedded computers that essentially are doing the same thing.

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