Florida universities test cyber threats to autonomous vehicles and drones


Florida Polytechnic University researchers are using new types of cyberattacks to improve the security and resiliency of cyber-physical systems (CPS), such as autonomous vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones).  

The research project is in collaboration with Dr Navid Khoshavi, assistant professor of computer science at Florida Polytechnic University, and Dr Kan K Yen, professor of electrical engineering at Florida International University.

As CPS evolve and become more complex, they also grow increasingly more vulnerable to attacks. Dr Arman Sargolzaei, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Florida Polytechnic University, has been awarded a grant from Cyber Florida to research this imminent threat by defining CPS’s weaknesses and designing stronger systems against different types of threats.

One of the possible attacks is called time delay switched (TDS) and consists of a hacker inserting a time delay into a networked control system. In autonomous vehicles, Sargolzaei said this could affect the critical immediacy in which controllers receive information, affecting sensor function and potentially leading to accidents.

“These attacks represent major safety issues in the future,” said Sargolzaei. “If a bank account is hacked, that causes serious financial problems. But if an autonomous vehicle is hacked, we could be talking about life-threatening consequences.”

The idea of a TDS attack was invented by Sargolzaei and his collaborators, and there is a patent on ways to detect and respond to it.

Another possible attack being used to test the CPS is called false data injection. Part of Sargolzaei’s project creates a Random Attack Generator that combines TDI with false data injection, to generate many possible types of intrusions to the system.

“Hackers might use these new kinds of attacks in the future and we don’t want to wait for that to happen to then figure out what to do,” said Sargolzaei. “We need to be creative on how we can get ahead of them.”

Sargolzaei said the research is also part of Florida Polytechnic University’s Advanced Mobility Institute’s (AMI) efforts to develop and test autonomous vehicle technology in the state.

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Rachelle joined Traffic Technology International in early 2016 after having worked for an HR magazine and prior to that, as a freelance sub editor for various lifestyle consumer magazines. As deputy editor, she supports the editor in making each issue and updating the website. Outside of work, she enjoys tap dancing, playing the piano and video games, and eating spicy food.