Comparing Embedded Systems

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If you’re planning to take the SY0-501 version of the Security+ exam, you should have a basic understanding of the impact associated with different types of vulnerabilities. This includes the security implications of embedded systems that are now in printers, vehicles, smart devices, and more.

For example, can you answer this question?

Q. Bizzfad is planning to implement a CYOD deployment model. You’re asked to provide input for the new policy. Which of the following concepts are appropriate for this policy?

A. SCADA access

B. Storage segmentation

C. Database security

D. Embedded RTOS

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation are available at the end of this post.

The CompTIA Security+ objectives include a long list of embedded systems. Some of these might be familiar to you, but others use acronyms that aren’t familiar to many people.

Comparing Embedded Systems

Wearable Technology Systems

A smart television (TV) is one of many smart devices that you might have in your home. You can easily connect it to your home’s wired or wireless network and use it to access the Internet. Many people use it to stream TV shows and movies to their TV. This is possible because these smart TVs have embedded systems giving them additional capabilities.

Other smart devices include wearable technology and home automation systems. Combined, these smart devices are often referred to as the Internet of things (IoT).

Wearable technology has exploded in recent years. It includes any device you can wear or have implanted. These devices can then be used to interact with other devices, such as a smartphone. As an example, Fitbit has manufactured a range of products that you can wear to monitor your health and fitness. Combined with an app on their smartphone, people can gain insight into how well they’re doing on their goals.

Most veterinarians recommend implanting microchips in pets. Animal shelters routinely look for these and if found, they can help return the pets to their owners. Some can even be used to open some pet doors. The company Dangerous Things sells a similar device for people that can reportedly be injected into your hand at the tattoo parlor. Once injected, you can program it to open some smart locks or control your cell phone. Be careful, though. Dangerous Things warns “Use of this device is strictly at your own risk.”

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Home Automation Systems

Home automation includes Internet-connected devices, such as wireless thermostats, lighting, coffee makers, and more. These devices typically connect to the home’s network, which gives them Internet access. This allows people to access or control these devices from the Internet, even when they aren’t home.

Camera systems often include Internet-connected cameras. These cameras can be within a home automation system or supporting physical security goals for an organization.

A system on a chip (SoC) is an integrated circuit that includes all the functionality of a computing system within the hardware. It typically includes an application contained within onboard memory, such as read-only memory (ROM), electrically erasable programmable ROM (EEPROM), or flash memory. Many mobile computing devices include an SoC.

An industrial control system (ICS) typically refers to systems within large facilities such as power plants or water treatment facilities. An ICS is controlled by a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. Ideally, these systems are contained within isolated networks, such as within a virtual local area network (VLAN), that do not have access to the Internet. If they are connected to the corporate network, they are often protected by a network intrusion prevention system (NIPS) to block unwanted traffic.

Real-Time Operating System (RTOS)

A real-time operating system (RTOS) is an operating system that reacts to input within a specific time. If it can’t respond within the specified time, it doesn’t process the data and typically reports an error. As an example, imagine an automated assembly line used to create donuts. Each location on the line receives materials from the previous location, adds additional materials or somehow processes the materials (such as mixing them), and passes the result to the next location. Each of these locations could include an embedded system with an RTOS to ensure it receives and processes the materials within a specified time. If it doesn’t, it can raise an error or alert and stop the assembly line.

Admittedly, an RTOS is probably overkill for a donut assembly line. There are simpler ways. However, some assembly lines are much quicker and require response times for each location in the millisecond or nanosecond range. An RTOS can be used reliably in these systems.

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HVAC Systems

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems keep computing systems at the proper temperature and with the proper humidity. Most have embedded systems to control them. If attackers can access these systems, they may be able to remotely turn off the HVAC system or trick it into keeping the temperature at 95 degrees within a data center. The resulting damage to systems within this data center could be catastrophic.
You can also find many embedded systems in special-purpose devices, such as medical devices, automotive vehicles, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Some control dedicated tasks, such as ensuring each engine cylinder fires at exactly the right time. Others control much more complex tasks, such as automatically parallel parking a car. Select the option and take your hands off the wheel. The car will park itself, within the space, and without hitting anything.

While these systems aren’t necessarily accessible via the Internet, many autos now include Internet access via satellite communications. Manufacturers could decide to integrate all the embedded systems in an automobile, making them all accessible via the Internet.

Aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) include embedded systems. Hobbyists use small UAVs to take pictures remotely. Other organizations such as the military include sophisticated embedded systems for reconnaissance and to deliver weapons.


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Q. Bizzfad is planning to implement a CYOD deployment model. You’re asked to provide input for the new policy. Which of the following concepts are appropriate for this policy?

A. SCADA access

B. Storage segmentation

C. Database security

D. Embedded RTOS

Answer is B. Storage segmentation creates separate storage areas in mobile devices and can be used with a choose your own device (CYOD) mobile device deployment model. None of the other answers are directly related to mobile devices.

A supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system controls an industrial control system (ICS), such as those used in nuclear power plants or water treatment facilities, and it should be isolated.

Database security includes the use of permissions and encryption to protect data in a database. Some embedded systems use a real-time operating system (RTOS) when the system must react within a specific time.

See Chapter 5 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-501 Study Guide for more information on deploying mobile device securely.

Read Mobile Device Deployment Models blog post for more information about different mobile device deployment models.

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