ADSC researchers demo security/robustness tech at 2019 Techinnovation


Lizzie Roehrs, CSL

ADSC researchers Utku Tefek, Ertem Esiner, and Lin Wei showcased two projects related to security/robustness in legacy cyber-physical systems at the 2019 Techinnovation in Singapore. The international event brings together technology developers and industry players to help commercialize emerging technologies, facilitate open innovation, and source funding opportunities.

According to Esiner, it is Singapore’s largest conference and exhibition focused on ready-to-market technologies. The two projects showcased were the F-Pro (a Fast, Flexible, Provenance-Aware Message Authentication Scheme) and TASC (Transparent Agnostic Secure Channel). These projects covered two aspects of Industrial Control Systems (ICS): first, authentication and integrity, and second, communication availability and resilience. 

“The conference gives us the opportunity to increase our visibility on the international scene,” said Esiner. “It fosters collaborations and funding opportunities. This also gives us the opportunity to grasp the direction in which the industry is headed to align our future interests.”

A legacy system or device is a computing device or piece of equipment that is obsolete, outdated, or no longer being produced. As many of these are still used in critical infrastructure systems, it is important that innovations in security remain compatible with these devices. According to Esiner, another important element is speed.

“Many kinds of industrial control systems have latency constraints for message delivery. Smart power grid systems where F-Pro operates is the most time-critical one,” said Esiner. “If such control commands are delayed further, it may cause damage to the equipment. This may further trigger cascading failures, resulting in a massive blackout.”

Many successful attacks against industrial control systems exploit the fact that there is insufficient checking. For instance, malware can affect an entire system because a device may execute a malicious command without ever checking whether or not that command was issued by the right user and under the right context. An additional line of defense would ensure that messages go through correct network paths and have been double checked before reaching their destination. F-Pro’s strength comes from both working on a low-cost embedded platform and meeting the stringent latency requirements of a typical ICS.

“To achieve flexibility and compatibility with legacy devices, our solution can be deployed without any structural changes and is protocol agnostic,” said Esiner. “Ours is an independent solution, transparent to the underlying system, causing no interference unless signaling is disrupted.”

These projects aim to boost the resilience of many critical infrastructures. As these infrastructures rely more on automated systems, they become increasingly vulnerable to both hardware communication failures and cyberattacks. According to Esiner, ADSC’s projects benefit people who either directly or indirectly use such systems as part of their everyday lives. These are systems such as railways, water treatment plants, smart electricity grids, and many other manufacturing, product handling, production, and distribution processes. As many of these systems are interconnected, the reliability of one can be critical to the stability of all.

ADSC researchers presented both live and video demos to their audience at Techinnovation. These presentations were well received by an audience ranging from academics to industry leaders - including startups and accelerator programs.