Carnegie Mellon gets $6M for security software to protect vehicles from hackers

DARPA sponsored security software project aims to lock down networked resources

Keeping hacker cyber-nastiness away from manned or unmanned ground vehicles is the idea behind a 4.5-year, $6 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to Carnegie Mellon University.

The project is part of DARPA's High-Assurance Cyber Military System (HACMS) program launched last year to produce ultra secure software systems to protect important networked assetsfrom hacks, attacks or other cyber-disruptions.

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From DARPA: "Embedded systems form a ubiquitous, networked, computing substrate that underlies much of modern technological society.  Such systems range from large supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that manage physical infrastructure to medical devices such as pacemakers and insulin pumps, to computer peripherals such as printers and routers, to communication devices such as cell phones and radios, to vehicles, airplanes and satellites. 

Such devices have been networked for a variety of reasons, including the ability to conveniently access diagnostic information, perform software updates, provide innovative features, lower costs, and improve ease of use.  Researchers and hackers have shown that these kinds of networked systems are vulnerable to remote attack, and such attacks can cause physical damage while hiding the effects from monitors."

Key technologies expected to be developed under the program include semi-automated software synthesis systems, verification tools such as theorem provers and model checkers, and specification languages, DARPA stated. The program aims to produce a set of publicly available tools integrated into a high-assurance software workbench, widely distributed to both defense and commercial sectors. In the defense arena, HACMS plans to enable high-assurance military systems ranging from unmanned ground, air and underwater vehicles, to weapons systems, satellites, and command and control devices.

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"This is an extremely challenging project as we work to develop secure robotic systems that are resilient to cyber-attacks," said Franz Franchetti, an associate research professor in Carnegie's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who received the grant. 

Franchetti said he is leading a team of researchers developing verification tools, including virtual high-assurance sensors and automatic software systems, to help computers figure out that they are under attack and to help them survive and continue operating.

The research also will "lay the groundwork for problem-solving involving the disruption of GPS service to critical consumer systems like other ground vehicles and high-end cars that feature a variety of computer systems to assist drivers," Franchetti said.

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