Safety & Security By Design: Ensuring Automotive Functional Safety & Security

Hitesh Garg
03 Feb 2024
08:00 AM
4 Min Read

Any point of failure, whether it is a security vulnerability or part degradation, could potentially put lives and property at risk.

Safety & Security By Design NXP Semiconductors mobility outlook

With the rapid advancement of technology, modern vehicles are becoming increasingly complex, powered by sophisticated electronics, hardware, and semiconductors. These advancements have propelled the automotive industry into the realm of Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous driving capabilities and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). However, unlike other industries, automotive electronics face much harsher environments and more stringent safety requirements due to the nature of their operation.

As vehicles become more advanced and connected, ensuring functional safety and automotive security has become a top priority for automotive manufacturers. The reliability and security of automotive electronics are held to some of the highest standards to guarantee high quality and safety throughout the operational life of the vehicle.

Environmental Challenges For Automotive Systems

Automotive semiconductors and electronics must operate under extreme conditions, including fluctuating temperatures, moisture exposure, power stability limitations, electromagnetic radiation, and exposure to physical vibrations. The reliability and robustness of these components are crucial in ensuring the proper functioning of the vehicle.

To meet these challenges, designers must develop automotive silicon that can withstand the harsh environmental conditions and maintain high performance. Fail-safe and fail-operational conditions are implemented to ensure the silicon operates as intended, even in the presence of failures.

Automotive Safety Integrity Level (ASIL) Requirements

To address the rigorous safety demands of automotive electronics, all chips, systems, and hardware designed for vehicles must meet the automotive safety integrity level (ASIL) requirements set by automotive Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). The ASIL is determined through a thorough use case and hazard analysis for each specific vehicle make and model. This evaluation ensures that the vehicle electronics will perform reliably and safely in various scenarios and conditions.

Meeting ASIL standards is essential for establishing consumer trust in the safety and reliability of automotive electronics. OEMs and suppliers must comply with ASIL requirements to assure their customers that their vehicles are designed with safety in mind.

Cybersecurity Challenges In Connected Vehicles

As vehicles become more connected and digital, they are increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats and attacks. The integration of features like remote updating and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications has expanded the attack surface for malicious actors. Unlike other industries, automotive cybersecurity is unique because any security vulnerability can directly impact vehicle safety.

Threat Vectors For Automotive Security

Connected vehicles face various threat vectors that can be exploited by cyber attackers. These include external networks such as cellular networks for telematics and Wi-Fi for entertainment, internal vehicular networks, vehicle internal ports, and external devices like wireless key fobs.

Attackers may exploit vulnerabilities in the telematics network to hijack the vehicle's connection and remotely control critical functions like steering and braking. Lack of confidentiality in vehicular networks allows attackers to reverse-engineer messages and impersonate internal devices, leading to potential security breaches.

Cryptography & Hardware Security Modules (HSMs)

To address these cybersecurity challenges, automotive engineers employ cryptography. Hardware security modules (HSMs) are utilized to run cryptographic functions that enhance the security of the vehicle's communications and data protection.

Embedded hardware security models are designed to protect against various threat vectors, including network intrusions, unauthorized software updates, and spoofing attacks. Secure communication protocols are also implemented to ensure that data exchanged between different vehicle components is secure and authentic.

Industry Initiatives For Automotive Security

Various industry initiatives aim to establish standardized security frameworks for automotive electronics. For example, the EVITA project is a European research effort that focuses on establishing secure on-board networks through hardware security anchors and software security layers. By contributing to such projects, automotive manufacturers collaborate to develop best practices and guidelines for automotive security.

ISO/SAE J3101 and AUTOSAR are other industry standards that address broader security guidelines and manage the security requirements of interconnected Electronic Control Units (ECUs) in vehicles. These initiatives promote a systematic approach to evaluate the quality of automotive security solutions and ensure the implementation of robust security measures.

Designing for Safety and Security

In the automotive industry, safety and security are closely intertwined. Any security vulnerability can directly impact vehicle safety, making it imperative to design systems that are both safe and secure.

Engineers implement numerous safety mechanisms in the hardware design to detect and control failures, ensuring that the vehicle remains within safety requirements. Software security measures, including secure boot processes, authenticated updates, and secure messaging, are implemented to protect the vehicle from potential cyber threats.


As the automotive industry embraces the era of hyperconnected and autonomous vehicles, safety and security become critical pillars of innovation. Ensuring functional safety and automotive security is a collective responsibility shared by automotive manufacturers, suppliers, and industry stakeholders. The reliability and robustness of automotive electronics are essential to withstand the harsh environmental conditions vehicles face. Compliance with ASIL requirements instills consumer trust in the safety and reliability of vehicles. Moreover, as vehicles become more connected and digitally advanced, robust cybersecurity measures are essential to safeguard against potential cyber threats. Cryptography, hardware security modules, and embedded security models enhance the security of vehicular communications and protect data integrity.

Collaboration through industry initiatives ensures the development of standardized security frameworks and best practices, further strengthening automotive security.

Designing vehicles that are both safe and secure is paramount in shaping a future where innovation and consumer safety go hand in hand. As the automotive industry continues to evolve, a strong commitment to functional safety and automotive security will drive the development of innovative and secure technologies that shape the future of transportation.

Hitesh Garg is the India Country Manager of NXP Semiconductors; views expressed are personal.

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