Illinois school will lead fight against transportation hacking with $10 million grant.

A cyber safety consortium led by engineers at the Illinois Institute of Technology has gained a $10 million federal grant to help ships, trains, trucks, and cars boost their resilience against hackers’ attacks.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) grant provided the funding after naming the Center for Assured and Resilient Navigation in Advanced TransportatION Systems (CARNATIONS) as a Tier 1 University Transportation Center (UTC). The designation means that CARNATIONS will work to improve transportation navigation systems by making them more resilient to cyber attacks such as spoofing and jamming. 

If that sort of interference targets critical infrastructure, it has the potential to cause widespread delays and cascading failures across multiple modes of transportation. So to guard against that, CARNATIONS will perform research in the area of resilient transportation systems, facilitate technology transfer to public agencies and industry, and advance workforce and educational development.

More specifically, lead researcher and Illinois Tech Professor Boris Pervan said his team plans to approach the problem from several angles, including developing algorithms that can tell the difference between authentic or spoofed GPS signals and improving GPS receivers by combining them with other types of sensors that are immune to jamming and spoofing.

CARNATIONS will also be looking to the future at the possibility of a fully connected system, where self-driving cars share information with each other and with smart infrastructure such as traffic signals.

“Spoofing vehicles can be very dangerous,” Pervan said in a release. “If you spoof one car and that information gets passed on to others, it’s infecting the whole system. On the other hand, the information from the other vehicles could be of some use to tell you that you’re being spoofed, so right now we have no idea how that trade-off will play out.”

Additional researchers include Illinois Tech Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Matthew Spenko and Research Associate Professor Samer Khanafseh, as well as engineers from Chicago State University, Stanford University, University of California Riverside, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 

“Our nation’s infrastructure increasingly relies on connected and automated technologies, with significant potential cybersecurity risks,” says U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois). “Illinois Institute of Technology will help develop innovative solutions to protect our nation’s transportation infrastructure from cybersecurity risks. This partnership with Chicago State University will train the next generation of engineers on innovative technology to identify, mitigate, and remove cybersecurity risks from our transportation infrastructure.”