Cybersecurity concept for unmanned systems

The University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science Department of Systems and Information Engineering announced the success of an early-stage demonstration to improve defenses for unmanned aerial vehicles against cyber attacks. U.Va.’s System-Aware Cybersecurity concept and Secure Sentinel technology were tested in collaboration with Georgia Tech Research Institute through a series of live flight cyber-attack scenarios.

The demonstration was part of a research project led by U.Va. to detect and respond to cyber-attacks in unmanned systems.

To fulfill missions, unmanned systems need to collect, process, store and disseminate a wide array of data, which can reflect anything from troop movements to environmental data and strategic operations. As unmanned systems employment grows across a wide range of missions and services for the military, defense and commercial sectors, the protection and monitoring of these systems will be a growing priority.

“Our research focuses on providing additional security by employing an on-board secure monitoring subsystem to detect illogical behaviors relative to the expected profile of a system’s performance. Detections can serve to initiate automated recovery actions and to alert operators of the attack. The cybersecurity Sentinel system includes design features that allow it to be far more secure than the system it monitors,” said Barry Horowitz, project leader and Professor of Systems and Information Engineering at the University of Virginia.

The demonstration emulated threat scenarios including ground-based cyber-attacks, insider-initiated attacks and supply chain interdictions. Conducted over a five-day period, the attack scenarios focused on four critical areas: GPS embedded data manipulations, waypoint manipulations originating from ground or onboard sources, manipulation of critical meta data related to transmitted imagery and onboard surveillance and payload control breaches.

The inflight testing gauged the effectiveness of the countermeasure technology in hardening the unmanned system’s cyber agility and resiliency under attack conditions. Each flight was developed to present scenarios that could potentially be faced in real-world situations. In each case, the System-Aware Secure Sentinel technology was able to rapidly detect, inform and correct system performance in response to the emulated cyber-attacks.

The Secure Sentinel technology was developed through the Stevens Institute-led, multi-University Systems Engineering Research Center, a University-Affiliated Research Center sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense. The University of Virginia has recently licensed the technology to Mission Secure Inc. which is in the process of commercializing its security solutions for the military, intelligence and civil sectors.

“The success of these flight demonstrations reflects on the quality and relevance of the advanced research being conducted here at U.Va.,” stated Michael P. Straightiff, managing director of U.Va. Innovation, and Executive Director of the U.Va. Licensing & Ventures Group. “Faculty at the University of Virginia continue to develop significant technology that addresses the challenges facing our world, and we look to partnerships with companies like Mission Secure to help us bring these technologies to market.”