Embedded Security and Open Systems Interoperability: Are They Mutually Exclusive?

Military planes

Much of our business comes from the military and aerospace market, where the adoption of open systems architecture in DoD programs continues to evolve.  

Although not perfect, embedded computing products within the same industry standard business ecosystem will generally play together if attention is paid to interconnectivity. But just as the modular open systems architecture (MOSA) market gains steam, bringing with it more affordability and faster innovation, new requirements for secure processing may result in locking in point solutions—and that’s the exact opposite of what MOSA is supposed to be all about.

Open architecture standards for embedded computing continue to drive product development compliance, and ensure compatibility and interoperability; VITA, FACE, SOSA, HOST are some of these standards. Well engineered systems can be built that allow interchangeability of product between one supplier and another.  

Secure processing requirements, though, now increasingly drive embedded computing designs to include secure building blocks, standardized such that customers can repurpose them to suit their specific security requirements. Providing customers with the ability to implement their chosen security solutions will become a much larger part of our portfolio going forward.

But these security building blocks will become a unique element in the design that then gets used in a unique way by different customers, and can include interaction with applications. There will be significant resources invested in the engineering and validation of a customer solution that will be sensitive at best to the specific hardware design implementation.

Many, if not most, future defense electronics requirements will require a security architecture that drills down into the embedded computing platform design, and the end solutions will evolve to be qualified and certified. Multiple open architecture industry standard product sources can certainly fit the primary functional and form factor requirements, and theoretically be interchangeable in the system—but the new underlying security architecture may just preclude this interchangeability. So, although the computing solution can be repurposed across programs, it will only be as open as the security architecture allows.

Will the growing requirement for security architectures trump the promised MOSA benefits? Can the standards organizations evolve an open security architecture that still meets restricted security requirements?

Those are among the key questions about secure systems that will be preoccupying vendors and users of embedded computing solutions in the coming months and years. 

David French

David is the Director of Business Development for aviation programs for Abaco Systems. He started out his career as a design and systems engineer for space platforms and launch vehicle avionics. Impatient with the sometimes slow pace of new development opportunity there, he directed his energy toward the broader embedded computing universe from telecommunications infrastructure to defense electronics. He still marvels at the challenge and discovery in applied science and technology.

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