University researches help secure drone technology

Mission Secure, Inc. now commercializing work

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University engineering researchers teamed up with researchers from the University of Georgia to flight-test a new System-Aware Cybersecurity concept and Secure Sentinel technology which could protect drones from cyber attacks.

Originally developed through the University’s Systems Engineering Research Center, the project was led by the Stevens Institute of Technology and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. The University recently licensed the System-Aware Secure Sentinel technology to Mission Secure, Inc., which is in the process of commercializing the technology.

Barry Horowitz, Engineering professor and chair of the department of systems and information engineering, as well as the project leader of the System-Aware Secure Sentinel technology, said the project can be applied to reinforce the security of many physical systems, including drones. Horowitz said his inspiration for the technology came after seeing a flaw in drone security.

“About four years ago, I foresaw a need to add another layer of security beyond what people were doing conventionally,” Horowitz said. “I decided we needed to put security inside the systems [in addition to] preventing attacks from outside.”

David Drescher, CEO of Mission Secure, Inc., said System-Aware Secure Sentinel technology alerts the user of a drone when its systems are under threat of outside intrusion; Mission Secure, Inc. is working to apply the engineering to other mechanical, non-drone systems.

“Basically, [Mission Secure, Inc. has] developed a product that came out of the University’s prototype that is installed inside of the drone and monitors the critical functions of the drone, such as its navigation, its cameras, [and] a variety of different things,” Drescher said. “[The technology] looks for something that would be considered a cyber attack, and when it detects that, it informs the operators that [the drone] is under attack and it takes action to return the drone to its desired state.”

Drescher said the main difficulty in commercializing the System-Aware Secure Sentinel technology is educating the market. Specifically, Drescher discussed three main types of cyber threats: advanced persistent threats, insider attacks and supply-chain interdictions. Drescher said the public must recognize that drone cyber attacks occur frequently, and this technology could be key to preventing them.

“Imagine if your car was under a cyber attack,” he said. “Our little widget would tell you that, … so you can continue driving your car safely.”

Drescher said the System-Aware Secure Sentinel technology could be applied to any type of a physical system, ranging from oil pipelines to 3-D printers.

Horowitz said the successful flight-test of the System-Aware Secure Sentinel technology was an “important milestone.”

Drescher said he is also excited and praised the research conducted at the University.

“This is a great research project that was started here at U.Va. in the Engineering Department, and the Department of Defense and the University are very excited that their research … is going out to do something,” he said.

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