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BlackBerry Toughens QNX Against Car Hackers

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Hacker proof cars? BlackBerry QNX Hypervisor launch allows for partition and isolation of safety-critical systems

BlackBerry has responded to growing security concerns about connected cars, after a number of high profile hacks against electronic car systems and their apps.

To this end it has launched QNX Hypervisor 2.0, which will allow car system developers to utilise a 64-bit embedded operating system.

It also means that safety-critical systems can be partitioned and isolated from non-safety critical environments.

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QNX Hypervisor is based on QNX SDP 7.0, which the former mobile titan is touting as its most advanced and secure platform.

“BlackBerry’s QNX Hypervisor 2.0 creates virtual software containers, such that any hiccup or breach in a single car functional domain can be isolated and does not impact or create vulnerabilities in other domains of the car,” said BlackBerry.

It cited the example of a virtual cockpit, which uses a single System on a Chip (SoC) to run both an infotainment system and the car’s digital instrument cluster, which comprises the speedometer, odometer and petrol tank indicator.

It pointed out that the car’s digital instrument cluster needs to interface with critical driving systems, but it has to do that in a way that is both safety certified and architected so that security is ironclad.

BlackBerry said that QNX Hypervisor 2.0 will keep each of these two systems isolated, so that if the infotainment system were to crash, it would not take the safety-critical systems down with it.

“There is no safety without security,” said John Wall, senior VP and head of BlackBerry QNX. “If hackers can access a car through a non-critical ECU system, they can tamper or take over safety-critical areas, such as the steering system, brakes or engine.”

“BlackBerry’s QNX Hypervisor 2.0 safeguards against these types of attacks and is a key component of our multi-level approach to securing connected and autonomous vehicles,” Wall added.

Meanwhile it seems that Qualcomm has adopted QNX Hypervisor 2.0 as part of certain digital cockpit solutions.

“The QNX Hypervisor 2.0 will assist automakers in taking greater advantage of the power of our Snapdragon automotive platform,” said Nakul Duggal, VP, product management, automotive, Qualcomm. “The ability to run concurrent operating systems on top of the QNX Hypervisor on the Snapdragon 820Am automotive platform will help automakers to reduce hardware complexity and cost in their vehicles, while still delivering the responsive and rich user experiences that consumers demand today.”

BlackBerry’s QNX Hypervisor 2.0 complies with IEC 61508 SIL 3 for industrial safety, IEC 62304 for medical device software, and ISO 26262 ASIL D for automotive safety.

Car Security

The arrival of connected cars has prompted growing concern at the potential security implications. Security researchers has previously signed an open letter encouraging carmakers to improve the security systems of their cars.

And for good reason. Car maker Telsa a couple of years ago for example had to issue a patch for a potentially serious security flaw which could allow hackers to assume control of the vehicle.

Other car makers are also not immune. Fiat and Chrysler previously had to recall over million vehicles in the United States because of a security vulnerability.

BMW also had to patch a serious security flaw that could have allowed hackers to seize control of some of its cars’ systems.

Quiz: In the driving seat about connected cars?