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Safe Communication

Safe communication is a prerequisite for safety systems which involve transmission of information between different locations. This includes railway signaling, aircraft control, emergency shutdown systems, emergency braking systems, medical implants, and similar systems where potential failures can have fatal consequences.

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Safety can be defined as freedom from unacceptable risk of harm to humans, either directly or indirectly as a result of damage to property, equipment or the environment. To achieve safety, one can use one or more barriers, such as physical barriers (e.g. firewalls), work processes, education and training, monitoring and surveillance, control, evacuation and emergency procedures. Functional safety can be defined as barriers in the shape of electrical and programmable control systems which must operate correctly in order to maintain the total system safety.

A communication system is considered as part of a safety system if safety-critical information is transmitted between different locations. For a communication system to be safe, it must be proven and certified according to domain-specific safety standards.

Traditionally, communication systems in safety applications have been considered closed, e.g. they have been standalone systems segregated from the outside world by physical limitations. This could be wires in the fuselage of a plane, wires in the body of a car, or wires buried in the ground of a process plant. These systems have not had the need to address threats from external malicious sources, and have thus not implemented any information security protective measures. With the advent of connectivity and digitalization necessary to achieve the benefits from Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), former closed safety communication systems are becoming open, either through Internet connections or by introducing wireless technology. This shift will require a complete redesign of the safety functions in the communication systems, as information security is now necessary for safe operation.

In SINTEF, we address the challenges related to safe communication in close collaboration with industry. We do research and development on safe communication and related topics, in order for our customers to provide safe and secure solutions for autonomous ships, cars, drones, as well as Industry 4.0 and IIoT.

Our research areas include:

  • Safe communication protocols and architectures
  • Safe embedded design and development (HW and SW)
  • Information security for safety applications
  • Functional safety standards and regulations
  • Safety analysis using STAMP and STPA
  • Systems engineering and systems design

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