An overview of ISO/SAE 21434 “Road vehicles: Cybersecurity Engineering”

Date: July 13, 2020

Author: Amit Agarwal

With the current trend of connected vehicles to the external world, where digital connectivity is becoming more important, and gives more opportunity to get access to the outside world and also to get updated with the lasted software to keep the vehicle updated.

Where there is a connectivity to the outside world, there is also a risk or thread of cyber-attack directly or indirectly. Cybersecurity has become as important topic of discussion. Cybersecurity is still an upcoming topic in the automotive domain, and there are multiple approaches that are taken to address this topic from the governmental and legislative side.

Why we need a standard for Automotive Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity has become the major challenge in the automotive domain, as we cannot say or label that the vehicle is secure, as there are no measurement criteria for the security, nor we have any standard that is followed during the development of the software/firmware that assure the security perspective of the vehicle.

The need in the automotive domain for cybersecurity is to define common language or terminology that can be used throughout the supply chain.

To address the cybersecurity challenges in the automotive industry, ISO/SAE 21434 has been proposed to establish a common ground within the automotive domain. ISO/SAE 21434 is a single standard that is to be applied to many types of items, which contain assets with different levels of criticality.

What is ISO/SAE 21434?

This standard is going to define the requirements for the cybersecurity process, which will be commonly understood among the industry to communicate and manage cybersecurity risk among stakeholders.

We can say this framework specifies requirements of cybersecurity risk management for road vehicles, their components, and interfaces throughout engineering (e.g., Concept, design, and development), production, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning.

Like ISO26262 manages functional safety requirements, the goal of this standard is to manage cybersecurity threats of electrical and electronic systems in road vehicles.

ISO/SAE 21434 will be applicable to the Road vehicle, its systems, its components, its software, its connection from vehicle to any external device/network.

The final release of the standard will be done in the year 2020.

ISO/SAE 21434 standard will be able to define a well-defined process to ensure that the cybersecurity is taken care to reduce the intensity of the cyber-attack, thus reducing the data loss or human life. This standard is supposed to provide the clear means to react to continually changing threat landscape so that the automotive industry can procedure more secure vehicles and systems. Also, maintain consistency across the global industry.

A high-level summary of the ISO/SAE 21434 is shown in the below figure.

Figure 1: Overview of ISO/SAE21434 structure

Management of Cybersecurity

The aim is to make cybersecurity as a mandatory requirement across the organizations involved in the lifecycle of road vehicles. Management of Cybersecurity is focused at different phases of the engineering cycle, a lifetime of the product, and at the organization level.

Risk Management

The terminology defines as analysis, assessment, and management of cybersecurity risk. It is one of the important or core phases in security engineering. The analysis at the end of security engineering could be evaluated to ensure cybersecurity risk is acceptable parameters or not.

In this phase, the asset is identified, threat analysis is done, what is the impact on the users is determined to know as impact assessment.  In this, we also do vulnerability analysis and attack analysis by feasibility assessment, based on all, this the risk assessment is done, and the risk treatment category is defined.

Risk Management
Risk assessment methodAsset identificationThreat AnalysisImpact assessmentVulnerability analysisAttack analysisFeasibility assessmentRisk assessmentRisk treatment

Concept Phase

In the Concept Phase, the threats are identified (item definitions), also identify the development policies, need to define the goals of how to reduce the threat of a risk. If required, we can tailor the policies.

Concept phase
Cybersecurity relevance
Item definition
Initiation of product development at the concept phase
Cybersecurity goals
Cybersecurity concept

Product Development

This phase is more focused on the support of cybersecurity engineering. It is purely based on the V-process as ISO26262. It has the system, hardware, and software development phase. It is based on ISO 26262 as it defined the system engineering approach that is used in the automotive industry. After the System Concept is defined and during Software and Hardware, Phase Vulnerability Analysis and Risk Assessment (VARA) are used to ensure that no additional threats are introduced, and the residual risk is acceptable.

Verification and validation follow the development phases and sets requirements to ensure that the product being developed as per the stated cybersecurity requirements and design specifications and satisfies set cybersecurity goals. These include planning, reporting, and results tracking, as well as handling findings.

Releases for post-development criteria is to make sure all the development are completed, and we need to provide proper evidence of compliance.

Product Development
System development phase
Hardware development phaseSoftware development phase
Verification and validation
Release for post development

Production, Operations, and Maintenance

The activities and processes involved in cybersecurity engineering in the post-development phase. Cybersecurity monitoring requirements for gathering and reviewing relevant cybersecurity information, Vulnerability handling, and incident response is how to handle Vulnerability and how to handle the response. The update is more on how to apply the updated securely and what are the criteria of the update.

Production, operations, and maintenance
Cybersecurity monitoring
Vulnerability handling and incident response

Supporting Processes

The goal here is to define requirements and guidelines, which will ensure that cybersecurity is accepted as a priority and quality attribute. This section defines more operational management systems to support cybersecurity activities. It will define the interactions, dependencies, and responsibilities between customers and suppliers. And also, it lists the tools used in the whole process.

Supporting process
Management SystemDistributed cyber security systemTool Management


This standard is essential as it will become well-defined to ensure cybersecurity impact on the vehicle. This standard will help to develop the product, which will be less prone to the cyber-attack and threat to human life.

Further Reading


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