Clemson University is opening a national center where researchers will devise new ways of hardening the transportation system against cyberattack as a growing number of vehicles and more of the world’s infrastructure rely on the internet to move people and goods safely and efficiently.
The new National Center for Transportation Cybersecurity and Resiliency (TraCR) is set to receive $20 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation over a five-year grant period, according to a Clemson news release. Clemson was one of only five universities selected this year by the Department of Transportation to lead national University Transportation Centers.
Researchers expect to develop software and hardware that will be designed as an ironclad defense against cyberattack, the release stated. Wirelessly connecting vehicles to each other and to the roadway infrastructure holds the promise of reducing gridlock, crashes, fuel use, emissions and social inequities.
However, it also opens the transportation system to a host of cyberthreats from individual hackers, criminal gangs, terrorists and other bad actors. With every vehicle and piece of infrastructure that connects to the internet, there is opportunity to steal data, invade privacy, demand a ransom, generate misinformation or even shut down a whole system.
The new center will put Clemson on the country’s frontline defense in combating these infrastructure attacks, with Mashrur “Ronnie” Chowdhury serving as the principal investigator and the center’s director, the release stated. Partnering institutions are Benedict College, Florida International University, Morgan State University, Purdue University, South Carolina State University, the University of Alabama, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the University of Texas at Dallas.
‘The center will develop a comprehensive platform to defend against cyberattacks’
“This new center, supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation, places Clemson and our partners at the forefront of transportation cybersecurity and resiliency,” said University President Jim Clements in the relerase. “The center will combine educational and workforce development programs, ensuring we continue to meet the needs of our nation and prepare the workforce of the future. Through the vision of Dr. Chowdhury, the support of our South Carolina congressional delegation, and in collaboration with some of the country’s top leaders and innovators, we are developing a future transportation system that is safe, secure, reliable and efficient.”
The center’s researchers plan to consider myriad forms of transportation, ranging from cars, trucks, and bicycles to passenger rail, maritime shipping, and pipelines.
Chowdhury, the Eugene Douglas Mays Chair of Transportation at Clemson, said he looks forward to the challenges the center’s team will face and, more importantly, to the contributions its members will make nationwide.
“We will develop a comprehensive platform so that anyone involved in transportation will be able to defend against any cyberattack,” he said in the release. “The platform will help detect threats and will be adaptive and resilient so that we will be able to fend off attacks that hackers haven’t even invented yet. We are also going to examine quantum computing, looking at how to evaluate threats from quantum computers and how quantum computers can be used to defend against cyberattack.”
Researchers in the new center will come from a wide range of backgrounds, bringing their expertise in everything from engineering, physics, and planning to psychology, logistics, and finance. They have included a plan for equity aimed at helping ensure cybersecurity and resiliency are enhanced but do not harm communities and the people in them.
It is Clemson’s second federally funded University Transportation Center. The first, the Center for Connected Multimodal Mobility (C2M2), was founded in 2017 and was also directed by Chowdhury.