RIT researcher receives NSF CAREER Award for enha

Advanced driver assistance and autonomous driving systems have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives every year. However, the advanced wireless systems for connected vehicles that will enable these technologies are vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Hanif Rahbari, assistant professor of computer security at the Rochester Institute of Technology, recently received a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award and a $600,000 grant to improve the security of connected vehicle technology. His five-year project is titled Toward Reliable and Quantum-Resistant Connected Vehicle Security.

Through his work, Rahbari develops and validates new protocols to secure the growing connected vehicle ecosystems already in use today. The techniques he created will also protect wireless communication between vehicles from quantum-related attacks in the future.

“If we’re going to rely on this technology to help human drivers, it has to be safe and reliable today and 20 years into the future when there are old cars and new attacks,” Rahbari said. “Otherwise things could get worse on the road.”

Advanced ADAS and future automated driving systems will use vehicle-to-vehicle communication to exchange safety data, essentially allowing cars to communicate with each other quickly and frequently. Unfortunately, attacks can target the integrity and availability of these critical messages, causing driver errors. Today’s security protocols work to thwart these attacks to some extent, but an immediate threat comes in the form of quantum computing.

“Quantum computing will greatly increase the speed of solving problems, but it will also fuel attacks on the security mechanisms that rely on the difficulty of some of those problems,” Rahbari said. “This could become a real threat by 2035.”

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Rahbari is developing a practical roadmap with preliminary security protocols for a transition plan for the next two decades and at least two generations of cellular technologies (5G and 6G). His work will include novel security protocols and assessment tools enabled by backward-compatible communication techniques to prevent and mitigate quantum-related attacks. Refined and refocused cellular vehicle-to-everything communications technology will be primed for a future where connected cars made before the quantum computing era can still defend themselves against forthcoming quantum attacks – including those aimed at falsifying security messages.

Post-quantum cryptography researchers are collaborating with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to design cryptographic systems that can withstand attack from future quantum computers. However, current wireless communication technology for connected vehicles is unable to adopt the post-quantum algorithms being developed today.

Rahbari hopes to reconcile the limitations of hardware and communication protocols with the development of post-quantum algorithms by optimizing and developing new communication techniques using machine learning.

To develop and test all of this work, Rahbari brings interdisciplinary expertise from the ESL Global Cybersecurity Institute, RIT’s School of Interactive Games and Media, and students from the Ph.D. and Computer and Information Technologies Ph.D. programs.

As an integral part of the project, the team will develop a digital twin of a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication system on real roads, equipped with software-defined radio for over-the-air transmissions that can be used to evaluate realistic techniques and logs on a large scale. The digital twin will also be used to create novel games to enhance safety training and education for connected vehicles.

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“This digital twin will allow RIT and other institutions to evaluate the technology it embodies both safely and inexpensively – rather than first conducting costly experiments on the city streets,” Rahbari said.

Diverse communities, including deaf and hard of hearing RIT students, will play a key role in the development of these inclusive connected vehicle technologies. Rahbari also plans to work with automotive companies and standards bodies.

“After studying this problem from different angles for a couple of years, I was able to figure out how I could solve it — it just took effort,” Rahbari said. “I realized I had a chance to do something that would make the future safer and I decided to build my career around it. I look forward to the challenge.”

The prestigious CAREER Awards program recognizes and supports young faculty that exemplify the role of teacher-fellows through integrated research and educational activities. RIT has more than a dozen NSF CAREER Award winners working at the university.

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