TAMU-CC Researchers Part of Cybersecurity Research Team Funded by $10M Department of Transportation Grant

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Although the road to a future populated by autonomous vehicles is still under construction, researchers continue to work toward its realization. Among the key issues still to be worked out: the threat of cyberattacks.

To address this critical issue, a new research team that includes two researchers from the Island University is working uncover ways to mitigate the road traffic safety impacts due to cybersecurity attacks on transportation infrastructure and connected autonomous vehicle (CAV) systems. The partnership is thanks to a $10 million, five-year grant from the Department of Transportation (DOT) as part of its University Transportation Centers (UTC) program.

The Transportation Cybersecurity Center for Advanced Research and Education, or CYBER-CARE, will be led by Dr. Yunpeng (Jack) Zhang at the University of Houston (UH). CYBER-CARE consortia members include Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Rice University, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Hawai’i at Honolulu.

Representing TAMU-CC are Dr. Carlos Rubio-Medrano, Assistant Professor of Computer Science and CYBER-CARE Associate Director of Education and Workforce Development, and Dr. Mehdi Sookhak, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, who both have substantial knowledge related to the transportation cybersecurity field. Their work will investigate, develop, and test various technologies to specify, evaluate, and enforce cybersecurity and safety policies for accident management policies related to CAVs.

“Recent development in 5G and beyond technologies pave a way to move to fully connected vehicles, which puts the CAVs at high risk of cyberattacks. Therefore, the cybersecurity and the safety of CAVs is a matter of concern for citizens, governments, and industry alike,” the Island University researchers said.

Rubio-Medrano and Sookhak credit Dr. David Ma, TAMU-CC College of Engineering Dean, and his extensive experience with DOT-funded research projects in establishing a connection with Zhang at UH. Ma said Island University participation in CYBER-CARE will enhance the presence of the newly launched College of Engineering within the broader engineering community.

“The UTC program is one of the most prestigious and competitive in the field. Successful completion of the project will serve as strong evidence of our capacity to lead large-scale research projects and position us favorably for future competitions,” Ma said.

In addition to its research on transportation cybersecurity and accident-management policies, the TAMU-CC research team plans to use this opportunity to enhance student learning opportunities.

“We plan to use our efforts in the CYBER-CARE project as means for boosting planned Bachelor of Science and Master of Science programs in cybersecurity as well as building on the existing MS program in Computer Science and Ph.D. program in Geospatial Computer Science,” the team said. “Students in the new cybersecurity programs at all universities in the CYBER-CARE project will have opportunities to apply for internships and related research projects.”

Current TAMU-CC students will also have direct, hands-on roles in this project. One doctoral student will be tasked with overseeing the design and execution of CYBER-CARE experiments while undergraduate students will have the opportunity to conduct research on topics covered by CYBER-CARE. The team also plans to develop curriculum that prepares K-12 students for a future in the cybersecurity industry.

An additional project goal is an increase of cybersecurity job growth in the Coastal Bend.

“We hope the research and educational outcomes of CYBER-CARE allow for the exposure of TAMU-CC and the Corpus Christi area as a hotspot for high-technology research, which may eventually lead to big companies in the field to considering our area for future developments,” the researchers said.