Johns Hopkins Researchers and OnBoard Security Team Up to Protect Drones

February 23, 2018

(left to right). Ritvik Sachdev and Puru Kulkarni. Praveen Malhan not pictured.

Graduate students at the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute (JHUISI) teamed up with OnBoard Security, a company that develops products for vehicle communication security, to develop a system to protect safety-related messages transmitted between two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s), often called “drones.”  This collaboration succeeded at implementing a secured type of Sense and Avoid (SAA) technology.  SAA systems are used to prevent mid-air collisions but, in their current form, are vulnerable to hacking.

The Hopkins team was composed of three students seeking a Masters of Science in Security Informatics (MSSI).  As part of their required capstone for the MSSI degree, the students, Ritvik Sachdev, Puru Kulkarni and Praveen Malhan, sought to enhance the way drones share their location using the Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) messages.

Standard ADS-B messages are not secure against tampering.  Hypothetically, a hacker could alter ADS-B transmissions to confuse another aircraft into believing a collision is imminent, potentially resulting in dangerous evasive maneuvers.  To prevent such attacks, the students developed a security-augmented ADS-B system using a cryptographic software library developed by OnBoard.

“The impact of having the students work with OnBoard was fantastic,” said Seth Nielson, Director of Advanced Research Projects at JHUISI and the students’ mentor for the project. “Capstones are an important part of the Masters’ program; we offer and require the students to think critically about real world problems. Working with an industry partner, who can provide technical instruction and, in this case, access to industry-grade software libraries, makes that experience significantly more valuable to them in the short and long term.”





JHU Information Security Institute