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Navigating Cybersecurity Challenges in Smart Buildings

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As the capabilities of smart buildings grow, so does the likelihood of a cyberattack.

Smart buildings feature a variety of automated conveniences, from building access to personalized climate settings . Image credit: Shutterstock

Introduction

From the moment you step inside a smart building, everything — from lighting to temperature — is tailored to your preferences, thanks to advanced sensors and intelligent algorithms. Embedded throughout the building, these sensors collect data on various parameters like temperature, humidity, illumination levels, and occupancy, and feed a constant stream of information to a central system. The data is then analyzed to make real-time adjustments like dimming the lights in an unoccupied room, adjusting the air conditioning to suit the number of people in a space, or even alerting maintenance staff to potential issues before they become problems. 

The advanced capabilities of smart buildings, making life within their walls convenient, also make them an attractive target for cybercriminals. The risks are not just limited to compromised operational functionality, but also extend to the safety and privacy of occupants. 

Cybersecurity in Smart Buildings: Underlying Issues and Potential Solutions

The complexity and severity of network and data security threats in smart buildings necessitates a holistic security approach that not only addresses current vulnerabilities but adapts to evolving threats. 

First and foremost, many smart buildings leverage network infrastructures that were not designed with security as a priority. A key vulnerability lies in the building automation system (BAS), designed to manage critical functions like heating, ventilation, lighting, security, and air conditioning. 

Gaining access to a building’s control system allows bad actors to manipulate various sensors, taking control of several aspects of the building. For example, in 2021, a cyberattack targeting a German building-automation firm allowed attackers to shut the company out of its system and disable several devices, including lighting systems, motion sensors and window shutter controls. How did the attackers do it? By exploiting a user-datagram protocol (UDP) port exposed on the public internet.

BAS issues such as firewall configurations, inadequate network segmentation, and poor access control policies can be resolved by implementing a layered strategy, which includes firewalls, intrusion detection or prevention systems, and regular network security assessments can help to secure the network infrastructure. 

When communication between sensors and devices communicating over networks is not encrypted, BAS can be vulnerable to eavesdropping and data manipulation. Implementing strong encryption protocols for data in transit is crucial in such cases, and can include using secure communication standards like Transport Layer security (TLS) for data transmission. 

A lack of robust authentication for devices connecting to the network is another frequent cause of unauthorized access. Implementing strong network access controls, such as Network Access Control systems, can help in validating and managing devices connected to a smart building’s network. 

In some cases, building control systems maintain default passwords that are available in the public domain or guessable. Attackers are always on the prowl, using automated tools to enter common passwords, potentially resulting in breaches. Stronger password policies, regular password changes, and using multi-factor authentication can help to mitigate these risks. 

How MCUs Can Help Address Smart Building Security Challenges

Microcontroller units (MCUs) are critical components of various automation systems responsible for processing and relaying data between devices within smart buildings. MCUs can incorporate advanced hardware-based security features to prevent unauthorized access while detecting and responding to potential security breaches in real-time. 

MCUs incorporate several hardware-based security features that ensure security in:

  • Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs): Offer a foundational layer of security that is challenging for attackers to penetrate.
  • Secure Boot and Code Signing: Ensure that only authenticated and integrity-checked firmware and software are executed, preventing malicious code execution.
  • True Random Number Generators (TRNGs): Enhance cryptographic operations by providing unpredictable random numbers, essential for secure key generation and encryption processes.

Alif Semiconductor’s Ensemble MCUs offer robust security while being energy-efficient, ensuring that security measures do not unduly burden the building’s power resources. They execute crucial algorithms for secure data transmission and authentication, including encryption and decryption. 

At the core of Alif Semiconductor Ensemble MCUs and fusion processors is the Secure Enclave, an independent and isolated security subsystem that incorporates the following components:

  • Dedicated CPU and Memory: For running security-related tasks.
  • Cryptographic Hardware: For efficient and secure processing of cryptographic operations.
  • OTP Memory: For storing unalterable data such as keys and configurations, enhancing security.
  • Hardware-based Root of Trust: For establishing a foundation for secure operations throughout the device’s lifecycle.
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Alif Semiconductor’s Ensemble MCUs with its Secure Enclave, provide robust security for smart buildings. Image credit: Shutterstock

Conclusion

Ensuring comprehensive network and data security in smart buildings is a crucial effort requiring holistic solutions. Alif Semiconductor’s Ensemble MCUs and fusion processors provide a robust framework to mitigate security threats. These MCUs do not only ensure the integrity and confidentiality of data, but support the diverse, evolving needs of smart building environments. 

For more information on Alif Semiconductor security offerings, please reference the Security Whitepaper and the Alif Semiconductor Secure Boot Tech Video. 

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