Vehicular Cybersecurity Research to Promote Safety in Modern Vehicles

Posted: October 30, 2020

Research Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Qadeer Ahmed has secured funding for a new research venture in coordination with faculty from the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), the Institute for Cybersecurity and Data Trust and the College of Engineering. The project will use a retrofitted test vehicle, called a CyberCAR, to research cybersecurity and mobility and promote safety and security in the next generation of vehicles.

An advanced sensor package and a drive-by-wire kit allows a remote to control the acceleration, deceleration and steering of the vehicle.
An advanced sensor package and a drive-by-wire kit allows a remote to control the acceleration, deceleration and steering of the vehicle.

This diverse research team combines backgrounds in Mechanical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and Computer Science Engineering (CSE) to better understand the scope of challenges facing cybersecurity and mobility. Recently, the team secured two grants to fund the project: one from Third Frontier will fund the human resources while an Ohio Department of Higher Education RAPIDS (Regionally Aligned Priorities in Delivering Skills) grant will provide half of the cost of the CyberCAR. The other half of the vehicle funding will come from ECE and CSE Chaired Professor, Ness Shroff, ECE Assistant Professor, Abhishek Gupta and CSE Associate Professor Zhiqiang Lin. 

The CyberCAR will be an off-the-shelf Chrysler minivan retrofitted with an advance sensor package and a drive-by-wire kit, which, Ahmed said, allows him to “essentially accelerate, decelerate or have control of the steering.” 

Researchers will use the CyberCAR to understand and address vulnerabilities in modern vehicles and determine how vehicles can become safer and more secure. CyberCAR also will be a learning opportunity for students.

“This will give an opportunity to students, either in the form of thesis projects or in the form of internships, that will help them to learn and get to know what's the latest in the automotive systems,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed identifies a specific topic that excites many students and industry professionals: vehicle hacking.

“In the past, we’ve had some workshops on vehicle hacking. When you start this workshop, you start with simulation tools,” he said. “But eventually, if there is a vehicle, students and people attending the workshop (could) do some hands-on vehicle hacking.”

CyberCAR vehicle
The CyberCAR in an off the shelf Chrysler minivan

While widespread vehicle hacking may seem far-off, researchers learn to hack in order to learn how to make vehicles more secure.

“Although these topics may not seem realistic now, the intent is that they don't seem realistic in the future. If you are able to address them well in time, you can come up with some solutions that can help the vehicles to be more safe and secure,” Ahmed said. "It's not just to exploit the thing, it’s to understand the weaknesses and how to address them.”

In the future, Ahmed plans for the project to expand to mobility infrastructure and additional vehicles.

“More than one vehicle is necessary, because in the coming time, we'll have vehicle-to-vehicle activities also,” he said. “As vehicles become increasingly connected and autonomous, researchers will work hard to ensure that mobility will be as safe and secure as possible.”

Written by Georgia Drost, CAR Writing Intern

Category: Students