Securing Software Updates for Automobiles

Normal operating procedures

In this section, we discuss how to perform regular maintenance operations. Since these operations are performed on a regular basis, it is important to ensure they are performed in a systematic manner so that software updates are delivered securely to ECUs.

Updating metadata and images

An OEM SHOULD perform the following steps whenever a new update is delivered. First, the OEM verifies the authenticity and integrity of new images delivered by its suppliers. Second, the OEM tests whether the images work as intended, before releasing them to end-user vehicles.

Receiving updates from tier-1 suppliers

In order to prevent updates from being tampered with by man-in-the-middle attackers, images SHOULD be delivered from the tier-1 supplier to the OEM in a manner that provides an extremely high degree of confidence in the timeliness and authenticity of the files provided. This may entail any manner of technical, physical, and/or personnel controls.

An OEM and its suppliers MAY use any transport mechanism to deliver these files. For example, an OEM MAY maintain a private web portal where metadata and/or images from suppliers can be uploaded. This private server MAY be managed by either the OEM or the tier-1 supplier, and SHOULD require authentication, so that only certain users are allowed to read and/or write certain files. Alternatively, the OEM and its suppliers MAY use email or courier mail.

If the supplier signs its own images, then it delivers all of its metadata, including delegations, and associated images. Otherwise, if the OEM signs images on behalf of the supplier, then the supplier needs to update only images, leaving the OEM responsible for producing signed metadata. Regardless of which party produces signed metadata, the release counters associated with images SHOULD be incremented, so that attackers who may compromise the Director repository can not rollback to obsolete images (see the opening section of the Security page for more on this attack.)

Regardless of the transport mechanism used to deliver them, the OEM needs to ensure that the images received are authentic and have not been altered. The OEM SHOULD verify these images using some out-of-band mechanism so that their authenticity and integrity can be double-checked. For example, to obtain a higher degree of assurance, and for additional validation, the OEM MAY also require the supplier’s update team to send a PGP/GPG signed email to the OEM’s security team listing the cryptographic hashes of the new files.

Alternatively, the OEM MAY require that updates be transmitted via a digital medium that is delivered by a bonded and insured courier. To validate the provided files, the OEM and a known contact at the supplier MAY have a video call in which the supplier provides the cryptographic hashes of the metadata and/or images, and OEM confirms if the hashes match.

An OEM SHOULD perform this verification even if a trusted transport mechanism is used to ensure the mechanism has not been compromised. If the suppliers have signed metadata, then the OEM SHOULD verify metadata and images by checking version numbers, expiration timestamps, delegations, signatures, and hashes, so that it can be sure that the metadata matches the images.

Testing metadata and images

After the OEM has somehow verified the authenticity and integrity of new metadata and images received from the tier-1 supplier, the OEM SHOULD test both before releasing them to ensure that the images work as intended on end-user vehicles. To do so, It SHOULD use the following steps.

First, the OEM SHOULD add these metadata and images to the Image repository. It SHOULD also add information about these images to the inventory database, including any dependencies and conflicts between images for different ECUs. Both of these steps are done to make the new metadata and images available to vehicles.

Optionally, if images are encrypted on demand per ECU, then the OEM SHOULD ensure that the Director repository has access to the original, unencrypted images, so that automated processes running the Director repository are able to encrypt them in the first place. It does not matter how the original, unencrypted images are stored on the Director repository. For example, they MAY be stored unencrypted, or they MAY be encrypted using a master key that is known by the automated processes. See the “Preparing an ECU for Uptane” page on this website for more details.

Second, the OEM SHOULD test the updated metadata and images on reserved vehicles, before releasing them to all vehicles in circulation, so that it can verify whether these images work as intended. To do so, it MAY instruct the Director repository to first install the updated images on these reserved vehicles.

Finally, the OEM SHOULD update the inventory database, so that the Director repository is able to instruct appropriate ECUs on all affected vehicles on how to install these updated images.

Backup and garbage collection for the Image repository

The OEM SHOULD regularly perform backup and garbage collection of the metadata and images on the Image repository. This is done to ensure the OEM is able to safely recover from a repository compromise, and that the repository continues to have sufficient storage space. To do so, an OEM MAY use either the following steps, or its own corporate backup and garbage collection policy.

First, an automated process SHOULD store every file on the Image repository, as well as its cryptographic hash on a separate, offline system. A copy of the inventory database from the Director repository SHOULD also be stored on this offline system. This allows administrators to detect and recover from a repository compromise.

Second, the automated process SHOULD remove expired metadata from the image repository to reclaim storage space. If the OEM is interested in supporting delta updates for vehicles that have not been updated for a long time, then the automated process SHOULD NOT remove images associated with expired metadata, because these images MAY be needed in order to compute delta images. (See Delta Update Strategies on the Customizing Uptane page).