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Standards are needed in cyber security



All information systems are vulnerable to various network attacks and information security risks.  Weak information security solutions can lead to serious risks, which in the worst case can cause serious consequences for business, end users and the environment. 


The security of devices connected to data networks is increasingly important and the number of attacks on embedded systems is increasing. According to the European Cyber ​​Security Center, the number of online attacks disrupting systems in the EU region has doubled this spring due to the tightened world situation.  


So how to implement a secure device? Before starting any planning, a risk assessment should always be carried out, which highlights possible product safety and data security risks related to the product. Proven techniques and work methods must be used in the implementation.  


Encryption of data traffic


Communication encryption standards have made it possible to implement a functioning and reasonably secure Internet. Standardized up-to-date encryption technologies and data security protocols provide a good level of security. 

The most important standardized encryption technology used to protect data traffic on the Internet is known as TLS (Transport Layer Security). The address of this website starts with  https, which means that the communication between your browser and the server was encrypted using the TLS protocol when you downloaded this page.  


The web is the main application of the TLS protocol, but it also has many other applications, such as email, automation protocols, VPN solutions, and IoT data transfer to the cloud. 


TLS is an abbreviation of Transport Layer Security. TLS is a collection of cryptographic protocols designed to provide secure Internet application communication over IP networks. The TLS protocol can ensure that you connect to the right server and protect data traffic between your computer and the server.  


There are several different versions of the TLS protocol, and each version supports several different encryption methods.  The latest version, TLS 1.3, was adopted as a standard in March 2018 and should be used whenever possible, as it is more secure and faster than its predecessor, TLS 1.2. TLS versions that preceded these, as well as the even older SSL, no longer offer the level of security considered sufficient.  


In addition to choosing a communication encryption protocol, the standard must be used correctly. In May 2024, the Norwegian National Cyber ​​Security Center (NCSC) recommended abandoning the visibly popular SSL VPN solutions, as it considers the products of many manufacturers to be insufficiently secure. Many of these security problems are caused by the fact that manufacturer-specific SSL VPN solutions often use either an outdated version of TLS for encryption, or the recognition of users and devices is incomplete. The open source OpenVPN also uses TLS encryption technology, but slightly better. 


NCSC recommends replacing manufacturer-specific SSLVPN solutions with standardized IPSec + IKEv2 solutions. IPsec (short for IP Security Architecture) is a set of communication protocols belonging to the TCP/IP family for securing Internet connections. When used correctly, IPsec can provide a good level of protection, but its difficulty lies in the complexity of the standard. 


The third important standard is SSH (Secure Shell), which has helped secure remote access to computers since 1995. System administrators and software developers commonly use SSH to manage both embedded and public Linux servers and embedded devices, perform remote tasks, and securely transfer files. SSH encrypts all data sent between devices. It also helps in the safe identification of devices and users.  


It is necessary to update the standards used in the protection of data traffic as general road safety requirements increase and breaking encryption protocols becomes even faster as computers speed up. 


Prepare for the Quantum Threat


A big, still partially unknown threat to many capable methods of data traffic protection are quantum computers.  Quantum threat usually refers to a situation where several of the internet's current encryption methods could be broken with a quantum computer. It is estimated that in 5-15 years, quantum computers will be able to reasonably quickly break the following methods commonly used in data encryption: DH (Diffie-Hellman), RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) and ECC (Elliptic Curve Cryptography).  

Since the quantum threat will inevitably come true, quantum-secure encryption technologies are currently being actively developed and standardized, as well as ensuring which standards that are already in use will still be secure in the future. For example, the AES256 standard is still functional in the quantum computing era. 

The first standards for new quantum-secure encryption algorithms are already being completed in 2024, but it will take an estimated couple of years for their implementations to be widely usable and proven to be safe in use. It is expected that quantum secure encryption techniques will be added to the TLS, IPsec and SSH standards when they are updated in the near future. 

When planning a new device intended for a long life, it is probably worth preparing for the fact that, if necessary, quantum-secure encryption can be implemented later with a software update. In addition to the incompleteness of standardization, quantum secure encryption is also challenged by the fact that new quantum secure algorithms require more memory and performance from the devices that use them than current encryption.

 

Another topic in the research phase is very light encryption techniques that can be run in IoT applications, where running a full TLS implementation is not possible due to the computing power of the processor, the low energy consumption required from the device, the minimal amount of data traffic, the delay requirements of the data connection, or other reasons. 


Design standards


At the beginning of planning an electronic device, it is important to map which parts of the device need protection, what level of protection is needed and which hardware and software can provide protection. After this, the planned security features must be implemented in the device and ensure that they work correctly. 


Information security standards dealing with design help identify potential dangers and deal with them. The most important general international standards relating to demonstrating the cyber security level of embedded systems are ETSI EN 303 645 and IEC 62443.  


ETSI EN 303 645 is the globally applicable standard for consumer IoT cyber security. ETSI EN 303 645 is designed to prevent large-scale, general attacks against smart devices. This standard describes how security is built into IoT products from their design. ETSI EN 303 645 contains 13 important recommendations, the three most important of which are: no default passwords, keep software up-to-date and implement a policy of disclosing product vulnerabilities. 


The IEC 62443 standard provides a comprehensive reference framework for securing automation devices and automation-related IoT products. The collection of standards covers information security during the entire life cycle of automation and control systems, and its goal is to increase their safety, reliability and integrity during their life cycle. 


IEC 62443-4-1:2018 defines product development and product life cycle process requirements for products used in industrial automation and control systems. The product development process according to the standard can be roughly summarized into the following steps: design, implement, verify and validate, and maintain and develop. The life cycle description according to the standard includes the definition of information security requirements, the definition of design methods, secure implementation, security level verification, fault management, patch management and product end-of-life handling. 


IEC 62443-4-2:2019 defines the manufacturer's electronic equipment level security requirements for automation and IoT devices. The standard promises to bring benefits from greater transparency and reliability, reduced risks of attacks, protection from attacks and securing operational technology. The standard has more than a hundred requirements that cover a wide range of equipment cyber security. The standard defines four different security levels (1-4), of which the first level means that all the basics are in order and the highest level requires a significant investment in both hardware and software design. 


Convergens offers services for the development of embedded systems, from business-level analysis to the implemented and marketed product and realized added value. We have solid experience in both software and physical hardware solutions. In addition to development, we offer services across the product lifecycle, including design, compliance and certifications, manufacturing and maintenance. We base our work on industry standards and best practices, and our key principles are quality, reliability, durability and maintainability. We can help your company design and develop secure embedded solutions. 

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