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#cybersecurity | hacker | A new way to think about security in autonomous systems: Don’t


The age of autonomy is upon us. While talk of autonomous
cars in the not-too-distant future captures the imagination, the reality is
that autonomous systems are very much with us in the present day. We see it in
the robots that are packing parcels in an online retailer’s warehouse, or
welding car parts on an assembly line. Autonomous systems are at work in virtually
all vertical industries and more prevalent than we’d imagine in our everyday
lives. They are being developed and deployed more rapidly than ever before.

It is well understood that security is foundational to the
reliability of autonomous systems. The end users or beneficiaries of those
systems need to be able to trust that they are not at risk, or at minimal risk,
of a malicious compromise. Developers are constantly being reminded that they
need to think about security from the start of the development lifecycle. Yet
there remains a tendency to focus on security as a feature or set of features ,
separate from the actual functioning of a system. We really need to think
holistically about the development and the final system, and about
incorporating dual-purpose technologies that optimize system performance, while
simultaneously strengthening security. When we do that, security becomes
integral to both the development process and the end product.

Consider, for example, the intersection of safety and security.If we
think of system level services that an autonomous robot required,
our first consideration is that autonomous robots are going to interact with
humans, and therefore safety is paramount.

A secure system isn’t necessarily safety
certified, but a safe system can never be insecure.

As we start designing in safety
features, security is necessarily part of our thinking. Intrusions are not the
only, but certainly a critical, factor which could cause a system mishap that
might cause harm. In this case, we are not looking at security on a standalone
basis, but rather in the context of what it takes to make the system safe.

Similarly, if we focus on figuring out ways to mitigate the
risk of system failure, we will likely come up with solutions that improve
security. When developing autonomous systems, we focus largely on the
artificial intelligence and machine learning stacks and the underpinning software
they execute on. Equally important are the sensors through which autonomous
systems perceive the world around them – the equivalent of the eyes and ears
that gather the sensory data that is then processed and interpreted through AI
to inform system behavior. Often, we take these sensors for granted, yet any
interference with their perception abilities, whether intentional or
accidental, will impair the overall performance of the system.

We have all seen movies in which the bad guy manages to
sneak past a security camera by putting a photo in front of it to dupe the
guards. With autonomous systems that rely on sensors and cameras, we need to
ask what is the digital equivalent of that act. We need to analyze and anticipate
how someone or something might abuse or fool the system. This analysis will
ultimately lead us to incorporate technologies that both improve system
resilience and better secure the hardware and software combination.

Going a step further, with ML and AI, we can train systems
to distinguish malicious fakery from accidental sensor impairments like
splattered mud or scratches on a lens. For the operator of a fleet of future robots,
knowing when and why a sensor or any part of a system is failing is extremely
valuable for advanced diagnostics, prognostics and preventive maintenance; all
leading to increased system uptime. What’s more, the very technologies that detect
anomalies caused by wear and tear or the environment can also detect the
anomalies of bad actors in the system.

All of these beneficial features and functions require
the secure collection of data.

Just as you can incorporate features that have the dual
advantage of enhancing performance and strengthening security, you can also
derive benefits from security functionality that extend beyond security. Core to the development and operation
of any autonomous system, for example, are identity management, key management
and access control. It is just as important to secure the development lifecycle
as it is the final product. Secure identities are allocated to every architect,
developer, test engineer, or operator
of the system; while keys are allocated to every development station, every
server involved in software orchestration, and every microcontroller and CPU in
the autonomous robot itself. With secure access control and software management
solutions spanning the entire development lifecycle, as well as every single
product, operators are informed of exactly which software is running in which
hardware, when and where, as well as any issues it may be having.

In other words, the power of an identity and key
management system isn’t limited to security. It has the added benefit of providing
valuable operational and diagnostic data, which cumulatively creates the
storehouse of data needed to train artificial
intelligence and machine learning systems so as to improve uptime,
preventive maintenance, and ultimately the efficiency of the entire system. Once
this base platform in place, iterating on the existing product, and securely adding
features, simplifies and accelerates adding value to end users.

We can expect development of autonomous systems to ramp
up in 2020 and beyond. So let’s make a New Year’s resolution to stop thinking
about security – more precisely, to stop thinking about security as something
we add after we have the core functionality down. If we approach autonomous development
projects holistically, and focus on optimizing system performance, reliability
and manageability, we will build in features that help with security, and we
will build in security that delivers added features.

By Matt Jones, General Manager of Automotive and Systems Architecture at Wind River



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