The Security Vulnerabilities of Embedded Operating Systems


Lighted Ways Tech
Shop Your Best Moments here. The easiest way to find your things!- CHECK EVERYTHING ON AMAZON
Figure 1: Typical block diagram of an embedded system. (Courtesy of National Instruments) | 
Source: https://semiengineering.com/m2m-and-the-internet-of-things/


It has been presumed by many that embedded operating systems are not the very targets of cyberpunks. These assumptions lead to security is not often considered as a seriously urgent for embedded designs. Several embedding engineers are not yet fully aware of just how the software, they put together could be taken advantage of. These assertions often revolve around on out-of-date theories with a conviction in protection by obscurity.

A Mere Hyperbole

We regularly learned and read about cyber-attacks carried out against governments. Cyber-attacks are carried out by people or groups and the motives of those cyber-attacks are wide-ranging, from just being gung-ho, economic, military, or political. Moreover, these cyber-attacks just keep on coming. These attacks along with high-level profile hacks wake up businesses in its deep slumber, acknowledging the facts to its unfounded belief, that embedded systems are not therefore impervious to cyber-attacks.

Whether or not it is mere hyperbole, it cannot be refuted that these days mankind is today living in a world of interconnected things. Whether it is utilizing electromagnetic waves or cables. It is a realism that humans are interacting through an assortment of gadgets and devices that are sequentially interactive with other devices. All of these are here to stay. Tell-tale findings foresee this year 2020 and in the coming years, connected devices will grow up to 50 - 60 billion. This development is by no means the upshot of an expected increase in the human population, but rather by the result of the unexampled increase of interconnected devices and machines. These are on top of vital infrastructure and functioning technologies such as those found in telecommunications, transport systems, and on the production floor.

Those aggressive attacks on embedded systems could result in wide-ranging destructions to vital infrastructures. These include private and public utilities such as power generation, telecommunications, transportation, water, waste control systems, and oil and gas industries.
Figure 2: Major application areas of embedded systems | Source: https://www.semanticscholar.org/

By far there has been no shortage of investments in cybersecurity training such as making procedures and numerous innovations in technologies. But sad to say that efforts had been generally focused on adding up security protecting the perimeter thus shooting up the detection systems and efforts. Because of unexpected confusion, there is now a mounting unanimity to recognize that a software system needs more security. And that security requires to be developed into the fabric of all software systems. Software systems need to improve the development process to improve security. It is of no use to put a stronger lock on a door if the windows are left often!

The US Department of Homeland Security says, “Software Assurance has become so critical because of the dramatic increases in business and mission risks that are now known to be attributable to exploitable software.”

Particularly, as the software is being reused and interfaced with other applications in fresh environments, dangers multiply, causing the introduction of unintentional aftereffects. It also gives rise to the number of susceptible targets. Given the foregoing, the risk of exposure is rapidly escalating and poorly understood. Tackling this crucial problem does not readily mean that an organization must build and employ fresh security procedures. Intrinsically, concluding in any case, that the current safety measure such as encryption algorithms are unsuccessful. This only means that the software system just needs to close that vulnerable gaps.

Security Is A Process

It is often a belief that best practices signify that a well-organized, repeating, and continuously security-focused development process must be created, in such a way that every security application measures are integrated into the software and programming design process.

In a setting wherein security is deemed a requirement, as always does in any key industries, it is often best to address it by incorporating security features such as encryption and password protection. Or else, software development does not put too much emphasis on application security. Many organizations do provide a few if any, systems, and instruments to help software developers create software that is integrally free of vulnerabilities. A software security perspective does not only integrate protecting, post-implementation procedures, but it does also tackle the demand to specify, design, and implement the application so that the attack surface, or to be more specific the degree of exposure of its weaknesses is substantially reduced.

Embedded devices run by software, create smarter products, adding up new attributes, and competences. Many experts are expecting more industries to adopt the IoT (Internet of Things). Industries will need more than ever software application technologies for their smart interconnected devices. The ever-increasing requirement for software application systems and to keep pace with the fast ever-changing business and shopper trends, software developers are going through a lot of pressure. This leads to the writing and reuse of more dynamic programming algorithms than ever before to provide the latest and far better features and accomplish it all in a much safer and faster way.

The Embedded Operating Systems’ Challenges

It has been a long developer concerned the quality of the software they create they have put in place a detection and elimination flaws processes that undesirably affect quality. However, many organizations have not yet implemented policies guaranteeing the security of the software, because fixing issues is both costly and difficult in a deployed embedded environment. It is a fact that both quality and security problems are all important especially in the early stages of development. Comparing this to their counterparts in the software operating systems developers, for traditional devices such as computers and smartphones, embedded developers have so many types of variables to consider.
Figure 3: Structure of embedded operating system|Source:  https://www.electronicsforu.com/

Embedded developers face incomparable and near-impossible challenges of achieving a profound intelligence and expertise in a varied mix of operating systems, platforms, language, and I/O interface. In a normal environment, embedded developers often and constantly work on diverse platforms. In each of which might have manage data storage devices and memory management entirely in a different way. In contrast, traditional developers work only on a reduced number of platforms, thereby allowing them to become more acquainted with certain security concerns. More so, in areas in which common software vulnerabilities can happen at any minute and ultimately be prevented. So many platforms are launched regularly making it almost impossible for embedded developers to discern the susceptibilities of every OS/interface, language/platform sequences.

Difficulties in Producing A Secure Software for Security Is Not A Priority

Whilst most organizations talked about quality as part of a discussion, security is routinely neglected. The stark reality is that up until such time security becomes a priority, it will often be relegated on the back burner than the two most obvious items on the developers’ agendas, namely, features and deadlines. Any security concerns are not often a “well-thought-out” feature or qualification up until such time that at most in a resulting predicament in which it hardly ever talked about. Also, whenever a security issue threatens a deadline, they are often to be expected to be avoided.

Almost all software engineers and programmers when thinking about security concerns, they often dwell on security in such thing as algorithms and cryptographic codes, access control tools, and passwords. Any software application, every bit of component, every speck of element of the software needing security, must be safeguarded. Likewise, not just to the components that explicitly focus on security. In fact, in so many cases, security exploitations and vulnerabilities are not always associated with security attributes whatsoever. Actually, in a study conducted by the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), 64 percent of software vulnerabilities result from programming errors.

Consequently, according to the CWE (Common Weakness Enumeration) database, the leading security vulnerability in an embedded system is connected to memory buffer overflows, that is when a software program reads from or writes to a location beyond the borders of a memory buffer. This may not come as a surprise for C or C++ software developers, as it is a recognized fact that these programming languages do not provide any bit of built-in protection against getting access to or overwriting the information in any piece of memory. Moreover, it does not necessarily and consistently test out the data written to an array is within the confines of that array. So, with this foregoing fact in mind, no amount of data encryption could safeguard against exploitations on the memory buffer overflows.

Typically, software quality assurance efforts are not getting any security justifications. Though it is correct that high quality can reduce security flaws attributable to deficiencies, traditional software quality assurance does not at all address planned malicious behavior. Guaranteeing software security means ensuring that it cannot be purposely undermined or forced to fail. In short, a software that can stay reliable even with intended attempts to compromise that dependability.


Improving and ensuring the security of embedded operating system applications requires more than just adding up security features. With the ever-increasing large and complex code bases, software developers cannot depend on manual inspection and code review alone. It all depends strongly on the adoption process of devices and methods to remove weaknesses created during programming. Safeguarding coding standards offer objectives and uniform practices and policies centered on proven best practices and years of security research.

Previous Post Next Post