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The University of Virginia is stepping up its drone game with new technology that has successfully thwarted cyberattacks on unmanned aerial systems. From launching its first 3D-printed, hand-launchable, fully autonomous drone in August to now developing a way to detect and respond to threats on drones, UVa is proving to be a front-runner in the race to make drones safe and effective unmanned aerial systems.

Engineering researchers from UVa and the Georgia Institute of Technology have completed flight-tested scenarios using their System-Aware Cybersecurity concept and Secure Sentinel technology.

“Our research focuses on providing additional security by employing an onboard, secure monitoring subsystem to detect illogical behaviors relative to the expected profile of a system’s performance,” Barry Horowitz, project leader and professor of systems and information engineering in UVa’s School of Engineering and Applied Science told UVA Today. “Detections can serve to initiate automated recovery actions and to alert operators of the attack. The cybersecurity Sentinel system includes design features that allow it to be far more secure than the system it monitors.”

Researchers say that the protection and monitoring of drones will rapidly become more important over time as drones are used more frequently to fulfill importance missions for the military and defense.

UVa tested out a series of attack scenarios over the course of five days in October. They focused on four areas in particular, according to UVA Today: “GPS embedded-data manipulations, waypoint manipulations originating from ground or onboard sources, manipulation of critical metadata related to transmitted imagery and onboard surveillance and payload control breaches.”

Each scenario was created to reflect a real-world situation drones could potentially face. The System-Aware Secure Sentinel technology was able to effectively detect, assess and readjust system performance in response to every simulated cyberattack.

The System-Aware Secure Sentinel technology was made possible by the multi-university Systems Engineering Research Center spearheaded by the Stevens Institute of Technology and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. The technology has already been license to Mission Secure Inc., which will commercialize its security systems for the military, intelligence and civil sectors.