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April 2014

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ECE Colloquium - Prof. Todd Humphreys, UT Austin

Speaker Prof. Todd Humphreys, UT Austin
Date: 3/13/2014
Time: 4:00 pm
Location: 151 Everitt Lab
ECE Faculty Host: Prof. Farzad Kamalabadi
Event Type: Seminars

The next few decades will see pervasive autonomous control systems become critical to the world economy—from autonomous cars and aircraft to smart homes, smart cities, and vast energy, communication, and financial networks controlled at multiple scales. Protecting these systems from malicious attacks is a matter of urgent societal interest. The study of secure autonomous control has made important advances over the past few years, but these constitute not solutions so much as problem framing and an emerging consensus that traditional fault detection and mitigation fails when confronted with a deliberate attacker: outlaws are different from outliers; fraud is different from faults. Moreover, the vast majority of this early literature focuses only on cyber attacks—infiltration of the communications networks over which sensor measurements y and control commands u are conveyed.

My research focuses on a category of attacks that has seen scant treatment in the secure control literature. Like cyber attacks, these attacks are hard to detect and can be executed from a distance, but unlike cyber attacks, they are effective even against control systems whose com- munications networks are secure, and so can be considered a more menacing long-term threat. Moreover, this category is subject to realistic physical (as opposed to questionable artificial) constraints on how y can be manipulated, which offers hope for substantial theoretical progress toward effective attack detection and survival. These are field attacks: attacks on the physical fields—electromagnetic, acoustic, pressure, etc.—measured by system sensors. I’m especially interested in field attacks against control systems performing collision avoidance and precise navigation and timing functions, as these are of special importance to the rise of autonomous vehicles. My students and I in the UT Radionavigation Laboratory have demonstrated the surprising potency of a field attack targeting the GPS sensor of an autonomous helicopter: in a live demonstration the target helicopter became remotely controllable almost as if caught in a tractor beam. More recently, we launched a field attack against the semi-autonomous navi- gation system of an $80M superyacht, driving it several kilometers off course without raising alarms.

Todd E. Humphreys is an assistant professor in the department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin, and Director of the University of Texas Radionavigation Laboratory. He received a B.S. (2000) and M.S. (2003) in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Utah State University and a Ph.D. (2008) in Aerospace Engineering from Cornell University. Following his Ph.D., he held a 1-year postdoctoral researcher and lecturer position at Cornell University. In 2008, Dr. Humphreys co-founded Coherent Navigation, a startup that exploits signals from the Iridium communication satellite constellation for robust navigation. He joined the University of Texas faculty in fall 2009. Dr. Humphreys's research interests are in applying optimal estimation and signal processing techniques to problems in radionavigation. His recent focus is on radionavigation robustness and security.