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Embedded Cybersecurity

Interview with Paolo Fanuli, Selectron Systems AG

In 2015, two security experts in the United States sent shock waves around the world when they hacked into a Chrysler Jeep Cherokee via its entertainment system’s Internet connection. A couple of sophisticated tricks and a fake firmware update later, they managed to get into the vehicle’s internal network, known as the CAN bus. From there, they were able to take over all the vehicle’s electronically controlled components via the mobile data network and perform stunts such as suddenly forcing it into an emergency stop in the middle of the highway.

Only seven years earlier, a Polish teenager managed to derail a tram in the city of Lodz using a TV remote control. He just wanted to play a “prank.”

According to Paolo Fanuli, Head of Cybersecurity Rail, this was “a wake-up call for the entire automotive and rail industry. It showed that cyberattacks on vehicles are possible in practice as well as in theory.”

Embedded Cybersecurity

New Center of Competence

Paolo Fanuli works at TCMS manufacturers Selectron in Lyss, Switzerland. The braking, driver’s cab, door, HVAC and power supply systems are all connected to the Train Control and Monitoring System (TCMS). “We started work on the development of our next-generation solutions last year. Obviously, we are paying particular attention to embedded cybersecurity – it’s a hot topic at the moment.” Given the importance of this issue, the Management Board of the Knorr-Bremse Group wasted no time in establishing a global security competence team for the rail vehicle systems. “Our customers are already asking for concrete solutions and we now also have an EU cybersecurity certification framework for industrial automation and control systems,” says Paolo Fanuli.

Close Cooperation Essential

Paolo Fanuli believes that the trend toward greater connectivity poses a particular threat: “Hackers could try to remotely paralyze entire fleets all at the same time. The knock-on costs of production stoppages caused by late delivery of goods or breaks in the food industry cold chain would result in serious damage to the economy.” Paolo Fanuli and his team has adopted a “defense-in-depth” approach involving multiple layers of security controls. Today, it is no longer enough just to protect a network’s external perimeter. “The individual security measures for devices and the network traffic security technology will need to be shared among Selectron, the customers, and the operators.”

But just where is special protection necessary? To answer this question, it is important to always begin by carrying out a risk analysis. The vehicle’s central processing unit is an obvious starting point since it is connected to the outside world and controls all the subsystems, such as the brakes and – on commercial vehicles – even the steering. Given the high risks, extra protection is essential, says Paolo Fanuli. “As well as the data communication between two endpoints, we also need to protect the individual devices.”

An Early Warning System for Attacks

Endpoint protection is one option – with embedded computer chips encrypting important data and detecting malware. For instance, a concealed switch can prevent anyone from tampering with the inside of a device: If the device is opened, the switch triggers an alarm that cannot be deactivated. All these measures require investment and proper coordination, according to Paolo Fanuli, “We obviously have to plan them at an early stage so that we can develop the hardware and software accordingly. They are backed up by additional protection in the software code.”

But measures also include a form of data communication pattern-matching during operation; if something looks odd, an alarm is triggered. Paolo Fanuli explains the benefits of such an early warning system, “Serious attacks always build up over a longer period of time. Threat monitoring can help stop them in their tracks before they really get going.”

Threat monitoring is such an important protective measure that it is explicitly mentioned again and again in standards and new regulations. This is precisely why Selectron has decided to develop an intrusion detection solution specifically for rolling stock that can detect hazards at an early stage – not only for Selectron systems, but also for components throughout the Knorr-Bremse Group. Embedded cybersecurity also offers opportunities for new business models, as Paolo Fanuli emphasizes, "Our customers don't just need the hardware, they also need services and training." Within the Knorr-Bremse Group, Selectron has positioned itself as the leading company for rail cybersecurity. In addition to the Center of Competence in Lyss, specialists will be established throughout the Group and they will introduce cybersecurity for all rail components under the technical leadership of the Cybersecurity Center. Paolo Fanuli still sees challenges along the way, but he is confident: "The market is demanding new solutions – we will deliver them."


Subject to technical changes and amendments to technical specifications at any time.

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Selectron Systems AG - Bernstrasse 70 - 3250 Lyss/Schweiz     
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