Uptane: Secure Framework for Automotive Software Updates: Reference Implementation and Demonstration code
Python C
Clone or download


Uptane: Securing Software Updates for Automobiles

Reference Implementation and demonstration code

Build Status Coverage Status


Extensive documentation on design can be found in the following documents:

The project's maintainers, contribution policies, and how-tos for submitting issues, security audits, etc. are visible in PROJECT.md

Instructions on use of the Uptane demonstration code

Below are the instructions on use of the Uptane demonstration and reference implementation code, divided into these sections:

0: Installation

Uptane supports Python2 and Python3. As usual for Python, virtual environments are recommended for development and testing, but not necessary.

Some development libraries are necessary to install some of Uptane's dependencies. If your system uses apt, the command to install them will be:

$ sudo apt-get install build-essential libssl-dev libffi-dev python-dev python3-dev

Fedora-based distributions can instead install these libraries with dnf.

$ dnf install redhat-rpm-config openssl-devel libffi-devel python-devel python3-devel

OS X users can instead install these header libraries with the Homebrew package manager.

$ brew install python
$ brew install libffi

To download and install the Uptane code and its dependencies, run the following:

$ git clone https://github.com/uptane/uptane
$ cd uptane
$ pip install -r dev-requirements.txt


When updating Uptane code, please reinstall its dependencies, as the corresponding TUF fork may be updated: pip install --force-reinstall -r dev-requirements.txt

Metadata format

Note that the demonstration now operates using ASN.1 / DER format and encoding for metadata files by default. If desired, this can be switched to JSON (which results in human-readable metadata files) by changing the tuf.conf.METADATA_FORMAT option in uptane/__init__.py, from 'der' to 'json' tuf.conf.METADATA_FORMAT = 'json'

Install command-line audio player (optional)

If you want the demo to play notification sounds you need one of the following audio player command line utilities on your path:

  • mplayer (available for all major operating systems)
  • omxplayer (built-in on Raspbian)
  • afplay (built-in on OS X)


If you are running into errors or want to run unit and integration tests to better understand the workings of the reference implementation, see the Testing section at the bottom of this document.

1: Starting the Demo

The code below is intended to be run in three or more consoles:

  • WINDOW 1: Python shell for the Uptane services
  • WINDOW 2: Python shell for a Primary client in the vehicle. This fetches images and metadata from the repositories via HTTP, and communicates with the Director service, Timeserver, and any Secondaries via XMLRPC. (More of these can be run, simulating more vehicles with one Primary each.)
  • WINDOW 3: Python shell for a Secondary in the vehicle. This communicates directly only with the Primary via XMLRPC, and will perform full metadata verification. (More of these can be run, simulating more ECUs in one or more vehicles.)

WINDOW 1: the Uptane services

These instructions start a demonstration version of the three services that run OEM-side (or supplier-side, or fleet-side): the Image Repository, the Director, and the Timeserver.

The Uptane documentation explains each of these services in greater detail, but in brief:

The Image Repository is the main repository for images and general metadata about them.

The Director generates metadata for specific vehicles indicating which ECUs should install what firmware (validated against and obtained from the Image Repository). It also receives and validates Vehicle Manifests from Primaries, and the ECU Manifests from Secondaries that have been bundled in the Vehicle Manifests, which capture trustworthy information about what software is running on the ECUs, along with, optionally, signed reports of any attacks observed by those ECUs.

The Timeserver is a simple service that receives requests for signed times, each bundled by a vehicle Primary, and produces a signed attestation that includes the request tokens each Secondary ECU sent to its Primary, so that each ECU can better establish that it is not being tricked into accepting a false or very old time.

From within the root uptane/ directory of the downloaded code (which contains e.g. the setup.py file), run the following command. (Any version of Python > 2.7 should do. We test on 2.7, 3.5, and 3.6.)

$ python -i demo/start_servers.py

After that, proceed to the following Windows to prepare clients. Once those are ready, you can perform a variety of modifications and attacks. Examples will be discussed below in the Delivering an Update and Blocking Attacks sections.

WINDOW 2(+): the Primary client(s):

(Image Repo, Director, and Timeserver must already have finished starting up.) The Primary client started below is likely to run on a more capable and connected ECU in the vehicle - potentially the head unit / infotainment. It will obtain metadata and images from the Image Repository as instructed by the Director and distribute them appropriately to other, Secondary ECUs in the vehicle, and it will receive ECU Manifests indicating the software on each Secondary ECU, and bundle these into a Vehicle Manifest which it will send to the Director.

Open a Python shell in a new terminal window and then run the following:

>>> import demo.demo_primary as dp
>>> dp.clean_slate() # sets up a fresh Primary that has never been updated
>>> dp.update_cycle()

The Primary's update_cycle() call:

  • fetches and validates all signed metadata for the vehicle, from the Director and Image repositories
  • fetches all images that the Director instructs this vehicle to install, excluding any that do not exactly match corresponding images on the Image repository. Any images fetched from the repositories that do not match validated metadata are discarded.
  • queries the Timeserver for a signed attestation about the current time, including in it any nonces sent by Secondaries, so that Secondaries may trust that the time returned is at least as recent as their sent nonce
  • generates a Vehicle Version Manifest with some vehicle metadata and all ECU Version Manifests received from Secondaries, describing currently installed images, most recent times available to each ECU, and reports of any attacks observed by Secondaries (can also be called directly: dp.generate_signed_vehicle_manifest())
  • sends that Vehicle Version Manifest to the Director (can also be called directly: dp.submit_vehicle_manifest_to_director())

If you wish to run the demo with multiple vehicles (one Primary each), you can open a Python shell in a new terminal window for each vehicle's Primary and provide a unique VIN and ECU Serial for each of them. Because each Secondary will need to communicate with the correct Primary in this demo, find port that is chosen in the Primary's initialization (when dp.clean_slate() is called) and make note of it so that it can be provided to any Secondaries you set up in a moment. The message will be e.g. "Primary will now listen on port 30702") Example setting up a different Primary for a different vehicle:

>>> import demo.demo_primary as dp
>>> dp.clean_slate(vin='112', ecu_serial='PRIMARY_ECU_2')
>>> dp.update_cycle()

WINDOW 3(+): the Secondary client(s):

(The following assumes that the Image Repository, Director, Timeserver, and Primary have finished starting up and are hosting/listening.) Here, we start a single Secondary ECU and generate a signed ECU Manifest with information about the "firmware" that it is running, which we send to the Primary.

Open a Python shell in a new terminal window and then run the following:

>>> import demo.demo_secondary as ds
>>> ds.clean_slate()
>>> ds.update_cycle()

Optionally, multiple windows with different Secondary clients can be run simultaneously. In each additional window, you can run the same calls as above to set up a new ECU in the same, default vehicle by modifying the clean_slate() call to include a distinct ECU Serial. e.g. ds.clean_slate(ecu_serial='33333')

If the Secondary is in a different vehicle from the default vehicle, this call should look like: ds.clean_slate(vin='vehicle_id_here', ecu_serial='ecu_serial_here', primary_port=30702), providing a VIN for the new vehicle, a unique ECU Serial, and indicating the port listed by this Secondary's Primary when that Primary initialized (e.g. "Primary will now listen on port 30702").

The Secondary's update_cycle() call:

  • fetches and validates the signed metadata for the vehicle from the Primary
  • fetches any image that the Primary assigns to this ECU, validating that against the instructions of the Director in the Director's metadata, and against file info available in the Image Repository's metadata. If the image from the Primary does not match validated metadata, it is discarded.
  • fetches the latest Timeserver attestation from the Primary, checking for the nonce this Secondary last sent. If that nonce is included in the signed attestation from the Timeserver and the signature checks out, this time is saved as valid and reasonably recent.
  • generates an ECU Version Manifest that indicates the secure hash of the image currently installed on this Secondary, the latest validated times, and a string describing attacks detected (can also be called directly: ds.generate_signed_ecu_manifest())
  • submits the ECU Version Manifest to the Primary (can also be called directly: ds.submit_ecu_manifest_to_primary())

2: Delivering an Update

To deliver an Update via Uptane, you'll need to add the firmware image to the Image repository, then assign it to a vehicle and ECU in the Director repository. Then, the Primary will obtain the new firmware, and the Secondary will update from the Primary.

Execute the following code in the Uptane services window (WINDOW 1) to create a new firmware file, generate metadata about it, sign that metadata with the appropriate keys (assigned by delegations in the Image Repository), and host the image and metadata on the Image Repository.

>>> firmware_fname = filepath_in_repo = 'firmware.img'
>>> open(firmware_fname, 'w').write('Fresh firmware image')
>>> di.add_target_to_imagerepo(firmware_fname, filepath_in_repo)
>>> di.write_to_live()

To assign the new image to the ecu 'TCUdemocar' on vehicle 'democar', run the following in the Uptane services window (WINDOW 1):

>>> vin='democar'; ecu_serial='TCUdemocar'
>>> dd.add_target_to_director(firmware_fname, filepath_in_repo, vin, ecu_serial)
>>> dd.write_to_live(vin_to_update=vin)

Next, you can update the Primary. In WINDOW 2:

>>> dp.update_cycle()

When the Primary has finished, you can update the Secondary. In WINDOW 3:

>>> ds.update_cycle()

You should see an Updated banner on the Secondary, indicating a successful, validated update.

3: Blocking Attacks

Uptane is designed to secure the software updates delivered between repositories and vehicles. Section 7.3 of the Uptane Design Overview covers all of the known attacks in more detail. We begin this section with a demonstration of the Arbitrary Package Attack.

3.1: Arbitrary Package Attack on Director Repository without Compromised Keys

This is a simple attack simulating a Man in the Middle that provides a malicious image file. In this attack, the attacker does not have the keys to correctly sign new metadata (and so it is an exceptionally basic attack).

In the Uptane services window (1):

>>> dd.mitm_arbitrary_package_attack(vin, firmware_fname)

As a result of the attack above, the Director will instruct the secondary client in the vehicle to install firmware.img. Since this file is not on (and validated by) the Image Repository, the Primary will refuse to download it (and a Full Verification Secondary would likewise refuse it even if a compromised Primary delivered it to the Secondary).

In WINDOW 1, run:

>>> dp.update_cycle()

Now, when the Primary runs dp.update_cycle(), it'll display the DEFENDED banner and play a sound clip, as it's able to discard the manipulated file without even sending it to the Secondary.

To resume experimenting with the repositories, run this script to put the repository back in a normal state (undoing what the attack did) by running the following in the services window (1):

>>> dd.undo_mitm_arbitrary_package_attack(vin, firmware_fname)

If the primary client runs an update_cycle() after the restoration of the Director repository, firmware.img should updated successfully.

3.2: Arbitrary Package Attack on Image Repository without Compromised Keys

In the previous section, the firmware available on the director repository was replaced with a malicious one. What if the image repository is corrupted with a malicious firmware?

Run the following in WINDOW 1:

>>> di.mitm_arbitrary_package_attack(firmware_fname)

You can see the update once again proceeding normally by running this in the Primary's window (2):

>>> dp.update_cycle()

The result is the same: The primary client is expected to also discard the malicious firmware.img downloaded from the Image repository and print a DEFENDED banner. If you inspect messages further up in the console (above the banner) to get more detail, you should find the following:

Downloading: u'http://localhost:30301/targets/firmware.img'
Downloaded 14 bytes out of the expected 14 bytes.
Not decompressing http://localhost:30301/targets/firmware.img
Update failed from http://localhost:30301/targets/firmware.img.
Failed to update /firmware.img from all mirrors: {u'http://localhost:30301/targets/firmware.img': BadHashError()}
Downloading: u'http://localhost:30401/democar/targets/firmware.img'
Could not download URL: u'http://localhost:30401/democar/targets/firmware.img'

Uptane detected that the image retrieved did not have a hash matching what the signed, validated metadata indicated we should expect.

Undo the the arbitrary package attack so that subsequent demonstration sections can proceed.

>>> di.undo_mitm_arbitrary_package_attack(firmware_fname)

3.3: Replay Attack without Compromised Keys

We next demonstrate a replay attack, where the client is given an older (and previously trusted) version of metadata. A replay attack could result in a rollback of installed software, causing secondary clients to use older firmware than they currently trust. Rollback attacks in general are described in The Deny Functionality subsection of the Design Overview.

First, switch to the services window and copy the Timestamp role's metadata, timestamp.der to a backup. This is what we'll roll back to in the attack. A function is available to perform this action:

>>> dd.backup_timestamp(vin)

Now, we update the metadata in the Director repository. In this case, a fairly empty update, writing a new timestamp.der and snapshot.der files. The backup we saved earlier is now old by comparison.

>>> dd.write_to_live(vin)

In the Primary's window (2), the Primary client now performs an update, retrieving the new metadata we generated.

>>> dp.update_cycle()

Next, in the services window, we simulate the replay attack, trying to distribute the out-of-date metadata backed up earlier, effectively rolling back the timestamp file to a previous version.

>>> dd.replay_timestamp(vin)

If this old metadata is presented to the Primary, the Primary rejects it, because it has already validated newer metadata. When you run the below, you should see a REPLAY banner. The console also logs the cause of the download failure (ReplayedMetadataError exception). In the Primary's window:

>>> dp.update_cycle()
Update failed from http://localhost:30401/democar/metadata/timestamp.der.
Failed to update timestamp.der from all mirrors:
{u'http://localhost:30401/democar/metadata/timestamp.der': ReplayedMetadataError()}

Finally, restore the valid, latest version of Timestamp metadata (timestamp.der) into place in the services window.

>>> dd.restore_timestamp(vin)

3.4: Arbitrary Package Attack with a Compromised Director Key

Thus far we have simulated a few attacks that have not depended on compromised keys. In the previous attacks, an attacker has presented unchanged, out-of-date data (replay, 3.3) or simply modified the images or metadata requested by a primary or secondary client, without having the right key to sign new metadata. Consequently, these clients have blocked the attacks because the malicious images do not match what is listed in signed, trusted metadata.

However, what happens if an attacker manages to obtain or make use of a repository key and signs for a malicious image? Is the client able to block a compromise of just the image repository? What about a compromise of both the image and director repositories?

Both repositories currently have metadata about 'firmware.img', which we added in the 2: Delivering an Update section.

For this attack, we'll modify firmware.img to include malicious content, and will sign metadata certifying that malicious firmware file.

To simulate a compromised directory key, we simply sign for an updated "firmware.img" that includes malicious content (the phrase "evil content" in this case), in the services window:

>>> dd.add_target_and_write_to_live(filename='firmware.img',
    file_content='evil content', vin=vin, ecu_serial=ecu_serial)

The primary client now attempts to download the malicious file.

>>> dp.update_cycle()

The primary client should print a DEFENDED banner and provide the following error message: The Director has instructed us to download a file that does not exactly match the Image Repository metadata. File: '/firmware.img'

3.5: Compromise Both Repositories Simultaneously to Serve Arbitrary Package

In 3.4, the Director repository has been compromised, but the malicious metadata and firmware it distributes is rejected. Compromising the Director is not enough to allow arbitrary package attacks against ECUs in the vehicle. The Director can only instruct clients to install images validated by the Image Repository.

But what happens if, at the same time, the attacker is able to sign with a high-level image-signing key trusted by the Image Repository? (Note that these should generally be offline keys and rarely need to be used.) With the previous attack still in place, let's add:

>>> di.add_target_and_write_to_live(filename='firmware.img', file_content='evil content')

Now, when the the Primary and Secondary update, the malicious package will successfully be installed!

On the primary client:

>>> dp.update_cycle()

On the secondary client:

>>> ds.update_cycle()

Note, both the image and director repositories have been compromised. As a result, unfortunately, in an attack of this kind Secondary would install this malicious firmware.img, which neither the Primary nor the Secondary have any way of knowing is malicious, since every necessary key has signed metadata for that image.

For demonstration purposes, the secondary detects that a malicious file is installed. The secondary client in the demo code prints a banner indicating that the firmware.img image was malicously installed: A malicious update has been installed! Arbitrary package attack successful: this Secondary has been compromised! Image: 'new_firmware.img'

A note on the difficulty of this attack

To improve resilience against repository compromises, the Deployment Considerations document provides many recommendations. In particular, the key placement recommendations indicate that Targets keys for the Image Repository are best kept offline; it should not be easy to compromise this top-level Image Repository Targets key and use it to sign malicious images, as this key should be needed only when altering delegations (to parties who may sign for particular subsets of images). Depending on the way you deploy the system, this may be only when establishing a relationship with a new firmware supplier or revoking trust in them, for example.

A more limited attack of this sort is possible against a subset of available firmware if rather than the top-level Image Repository targets keys, the attacker acquires the signing keys held by a party who has been delegated trust for a subset of images, such as a supplier the Image Repository has elected to trust to do the image signing for its own firmware releases to the Image Repository. While such delegated keys should also be held offline and need only be used when the delegatee produces new firmware, it is easier to imagine such a key being compromised than the Image Repository's top-level Targets role key(s). The structure of Uptane is flexible enough to accommodate almost any trust arrangement, allowing the impact of keys being lost to be limited to a small subset of images. Note that as before, this attack still requires also compromising the Director repository's Targets role keys or Root role keys.

3.6: Recover from Major Key Compromise

If a malicious attacker has laid hands on your online keys, or found a way to force systems with such access to sign malicious metadata, trust in those keys should be revoked, and new keys should be used in their place. These are likely to be the Timestamp and Snapshot role keys, and the Targets role keys in some circumstances (generally the Director). (More information on these roles and deployment considerations are available in documentation linked to above.)

Once the servers have been recovered, it is easy to revoke any keys that may have been compromised. We should also make sure that the targets and metadata in the repositories are correct again, in case things have been changed by the attacker while in control. In this demo, these two things are done like so:

In the services window:

>>> di.revoke_compromised_keys()
>>> di.add_target_and_write_to_live(filename='firmware.img',
        file_content='Fresh firmware image')
>>> dd.revoke_compromised_keys()
>>> dd.add_target_and_write_to_live(filename='firmware.img',
    file_content='Fresh firmware image', vin=vin, ecu_serial=ecu_serial)

We have just used the rarely-needed root keys of the two repositories to revoke the potentially compromised Timestamp, Snapshot, and Targets keys from both repositories. This is the first time they have needed to be used since the repositories' creation at the beginning of this demo. Root keys should be kept offline, as discussed in the Uptane Deployment Considerations document. If trust in a key needs to be revoked, the keys at a level above it (or any level above that) can be used. In the case of the top-level roles (like Timestamp, Snapshot, and Targets here), that falls to Root to do. In the case of delegated Targets roles, the role that delegates would do the revocation. So, for example, if you delegate the ability to sign for firmware from a given vendor to the security team from that vendor, and that team delegates in turn to a particular release manager, and that release manager's YubiKey falls into the sewers, the security team from the vendor can remove trust in it and trust a new key. Alternatively, the top-level Targets role for the Image Repository could remove trust for the security team from the vendor, etc.

Any client that receives the new metadata will be able to validate the root key and will cease trusting the revoked keys.

On the primary client:

>>> dp.update_cycle()

On the secondary client:

>>> ds.update_cycle()

As ever, if a particular ECU has been compromised and arbitrary attacker code has been executed on it, being certain that specific device is secure again without wiping it manually is difficult. Devices that have not been compromised in such an attack, however, should thereafter be protected from the use of those compromised keys by an attacker.

3.7: Arbitrary Package Attack with Revoked Keys

We should verify that the Primary does indeed reject metadata that's been signed with revoked keys. As noted in the previous section, the Primary and secondaries automatically remove trust in revoked keys when they install the new Root metadata.

Let's begin the demonstration by generating metadata that is maliciously signed with the keys revoked in the last section.

>>> dd.sign_with_compromised_keys_attack(vin)

The Primary attempts to download the maliciously-signed metadata...

>>> dp.update_cycle()

... and detects a bad signature by displaying a DEFENDED banner. The Primary does not trust the keys and signature specified in the metadata, as expected. If you were to inspect the cause of the download failure, you'd find the following exception:

Downloading: u'http://localhost:30401/democar/metadata/timestamp.der'
Downloaded 202 bytes out of an upper limit of 16384 bytes.
Not decompressing http://localhost:30401/democar/metadata/timestamp.der
metadata_role: u'timestamp'
Update failed from http://localhost:30401/democar/metadata/timestamp.der.
Failed to update timestamp.der from all mirrors: {u'http://localhost:30401/democar/metadata/timestamp.der': BadSignatureError()}
Valid top-level metadata cannot be downloaded.  Unsafely update the Root metadata.

We next restore metadata to the previously trusted state, where the compromised keys had been revoked and where new keys were added for the Targets, Snapshot, and Timestamp roles.

>>> dd.undo_sign_with_compromised_keys_attack(vin)

If the Primary initiates an update cycle once again, it would appear to be up-to-date. The metadata that was signed by the revoked keys should not have been saved by the Primary.

# This call should indicate that the client is up-to-date.
>>> dp.update_cycle()


If you are concerned that there may be installation issues, or have run into issues running the demo, or want to better understand the workings of the reference implementation, or want a thorough test of whether or not the Uptane reference implementation would work in a particular environment, you can run Uptane's unit tests from the root uptane/ repository directory by invoking tox like so:

$ tox

Alternatively, you can execute any of the unit tests in the tests directory directly, like so:

$ python tests/test_secondary.py

Or you can run all tests with a particular encoding (default ASN.1/DER):

$ python tests/runtests.py
// Or:
$ python tests/runtests.py json
$ python tests/runtests.py der