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Imec Demonstrates First Bluetooth Low Energy Secure Passive Keyless Entry Solution for Automotive

Published: Nov 14,2018

imec demonstrates the first solution for secure and very accurate passive keyless entry on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). This technology enables a seamless car access experience where a BLE device, such as a mobile phone, acts as a digital car key.

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Imec’s demonstrator builds on the research center’s Secure High Accuracy Distance Measurement (HADM) algorithms implemented on BLE. Imec’s HADM on BLE achieves an accuracy of 30 centimeters – which is over 10 times better than current approaches, even those already using phase-based ranging techniques – and will be enriched with physical layer security features that create a secure distance measurement between two Bluetooth-enabled communication devices.

With this innovation, imec shows that BLE is ready to support a wide new range of disruptive services for proximity applications in a secure and cost-effective way. These range from passive keyless access to cars and smart door-locks to accurate indoor navigation and tire pressure measurement applications. A growing number of cars offer passive keyless entry solutions that automatically unlock a car’s doors as its owner approaches. Yet, ways of electronically stealing a car have become increasingly sophisticated as well – with relay attacking being a well-known risk.

“To date, automotive players are looking at several radio technologies to improve the security of passive electronic keys,” explains Kathleen Philips, IoT director at imec. “To enable mainstream adoption in the automotive domain, important factors are energy consumption, cost and a high level of security against today’s and future attack methodologies. Last but not least, the integration of the passive keyless entry function using standard BLE smartphone functionality enables car sharing schemes where the digital key can be commissioned -on the fly- to authorized users.”

Imec leverages its vast BLE hardware and software design expertise to develop an HADM technology for a robust and highly secure keyless entry solution for the automotive industry using the Bluetooth narrowband technology. Measuring the actual distance between the smart lock and the car owner’s mobile authentication device, it provides an accuracy over 10 times better than today’s approaches – even in harsh (indoor) environments with a lot of reflections such as indoor parking garages. And above that, additional physical layer and algorithm security features from COSIC, an imec research group at the University of Leuven are being integrated to prevent advanced relay-attacks and location spoofing. Whereas phased-based ranging intercepts standard relay-attacks, it still is vulnerable to sophisticated ways of distance manipulation. The imec solution will block manipulating the measured distances that could pretend a key to be closer than it really is.

“BLE is very energy-efficient and it is already inside todays mobile phones and backed by a very broad and healthy industrial ecosystem. Today, we are the first to show that BLE is perfectly capable of supporting an HADM solution for the automotive industry,” Kathleen Philips continues.

“The solution we are presenting at Electronica has been developed on a NXP Kinetis KW35/36 Bluetooth device and has already proven its robustness and reliability in the field during tests with major industry players. Imec is also participating in the standardization of HADM in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Bluetooth SIG), to permit HADM algorithm implementation on any Bluetooth-enabled device including smartphones.”

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