Over the last years, Thales has continuously been involved in developing alternative or complementary ways of entering and starting a vehicle.

The objective is to offer digital keys to cars users and drivers to lock/unlock their vehicles and start the engine, using their smartphone or any other mobile device.

Taking it from here, digital keys open a variety of automotive use cases that will make access and sharing of vehicles much easier:

> Private car owners can digitally share car keys with family members or friends, possibly with a fixed duration, and without the need to physically meet

> Company cars fleet owners can digitally share car keys with employees, possibly giving access for a specific day or period of time

> Rental cars owners can digitally share car keys with customers, removing the need to physically pick-up car keys at a rental desk

Needless to say, digital keys enable car owners to easily manage the use of their vehicles from a smart device, in a very seamless way.

The Car Connectivity Consortium

The goal of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) is to develop a standardised ecosystem for global smartphone-to-vehicle connectivity solutions. The CCC represents a large portion of the global automotive and smartphone industries, with more than one hundred member companies.

The joint effort among all these members led to the CCC Digital Key Certification, providing a standardised solution to ensure interoperability and security of implementation. This should ensure a large adoption of the CCC Digital Key by all mobile device OEMs and car makers.

Thales has been a member of the CCC since 2017 and the early stage of the CCC Digital Key standardisation. We actively contribute to the development of the CCC Digital Key specification and certification program. Thanks to our chairman position in the CCC Digital Key Certification working group, our standardisation team has been leading the certification activities since 2019.

Automotive digital keys require trust and convenience

To build users' trust and keep the highest security level, mobile devices and vehicles need to securely connect with each other.

To do so, digital IDs and associated digital keys need to be provisioned and stored securely into each component of the ecosystem: in mobile devices on one side, and in vehicles on the other side.

This way, both sides will be able to recognise each other through a secure and mutual digital authentication, based on encryption mechanisms.

While the CCC Digital Key Release 2 already enabled a mobile device to be used as a key to enter and start a vehicle, the latest Release 3 (issued in May 2021) now provides even greater convenience:

The use of Bluetooth connectivity in combination with Ultra Wideband (UWB) now enables a driver to unlock and start his car without the need to present his mobile device close to the car. This enhanced feature enables drivers to keep their mobile device in their bag or pocket, enabling passive keyless access and engine start.

Further remote key functions are being introduced, such as seamlessly ´opening a trunk´, which can reveal practical for smart package delivery to a customer car, for example.

Thales supports the digital key solution, for seamless car access

Thales provides a secure, end-to-end solution for automotive stakeholders looking to implement the latest CCC Digital Key specification.

We provide our connectivity and cybersecurity expertise from car drivers´ enrollment into Digital Key service platforms, the provisioning and storage of digital IDs and associated keys, up to credentials renewal and key revocation.

Digital ID generation and key provisioning - Thales generates diversified, random IDs as well as keys and credentials that are securely provisioned into smart mobile devices and vehicles. These are the security foundation for the vehicle-to-car mutual authentication.

Digital key storage & credential management

On the mobile device side - Thales has been manufacturing embedded Secure Elements (eSE) and applet for the telecom industry, for decades. These offer a tamper resistant environment inside mobile devices, to store digital IDs and keys and protect them against hardware or software-based attacks.

On the vehicle side - Thales support car makers to protect digital keys stored inside their vehicles. Our deep knowledge of the attack landscape and cybersecurity protocols enable us to provide CCC Digital Key-compliant storage protection, based on Thales embedded Secure Elements, applets and firmware.

On the cloud side - Thales Hardware Security Modules (HSM) act as powerful credentials storage machines, that manage distributed keys´ lifecycle (distribution, renewal, revocation) and ensure crypto-based authentication between smart device and vehicle.

Looking further, Thales support extra features for car makers and digital key service providers, to complete a fully secure and seamless experience:

Secure driver authentication - The use of biometrics technology, specifically the Live Face Identification System (LFIS), can complement the digital ID check process, making sure only the driver associated to the smartphone can unlock his car and start the engine.

NFC Card - Thales offers NFC Cards fully compatible with the CCC Digital Key standard. This brings a secure keyless access alternative to car users who don´t have their smartphone with them, or want to provide limited access to a foreigner, for services as valet parking or car washing.

MWC 2024