A Survey on Controller Area Network Reverse Engineering


Controller Area Network (CAN) is a masterless serial bus designed and widely used for the exchange of mission and time-critical information within commercial vehicles. Invehicle communication is based on messages sent and received by Electronic Control Units (ECUs) connected to this serial bus network. Although unencrypted, CAN messages are not easy to interpret. In fact, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) attempt to achieve security through obscurity by encoding the data in their proprietary format, which is kept secret from the general public. As a result, the only way to obtain clear data is to reverse engineer CAN messages. Driven by the need for in-vehicle message interpretation, which is highly valuable in the automotive industry, researchers and companies have been working to make this process automated, fast, and standardized. In this paper, we provide a comprehensive review of the state of the art and summarize the major advances in CAN bus reverse engineering. We are the first to provide a taxonomy of CAN tokenization and translation techniques. Based on the reviewed literature, we highlight an important issue: the lack of a public and standardized dataset for the quantitative evaluation of translation algorithms. In response, we define a complete set of requirements for standardizing the data collection process. We also investigate the risks associated with the automation of CAN reverse engineering, in particular with respect to the security network and the safety and privacy of drivers and passengers. Finally, we discuss future research directions in CAN reverse engineering.

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Ion Turcanu
Ion Turcanu
Research and Technology Associate

My research interests include communications protocols for multi-technology vehicular networks, time-sensitive networking for in-vehicle communications, and next-generation cellular networks.