Modern Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), aka. drones, are literally flying computers with networking
capabilities which may expose them to cyber attacks. The vulnerability of UAS facing a hostile network environment is the emerging concern of industry. A successful cyber attack on a capable UAS platform would lead to disastrous results. Modern UAS platforms must implement protection mechanism against ever-increasing cybersecurity threats.
Taking advantage of modern embedded processor and systems design, a team of IRL researchers Ph.D. candidate Man-Ki Yoon, Dr. Bo Liu, Prof. Naira Hovakimyan and Prof. Lui Sha, specializing aerial robotics recently developed a drone platform that can continue flying safely even when a cyber-attack kills the flight controller and return to home safely when a suspicious change on the flight plan is detected.
The system, named VirtualDrone, utilizes processor virtualization technique to isolate a disposable autopilot system in a virtual machine. VirtualDrone achieves separation of the autopilot and system monitoring mechanism as well as protection of core system functionalities including physical sensors against malicious modifications and denial-of-service attacks. The autopilot is disposable in the sense that pre-configured backup software can be always ready to take over the flight control if malicious states or safety hazards are detected.
This drone technology developed here at IRL promises a resilient drone platform that is reliable and trustworthy even in a presumably hostile environment. This work has been accepted for publication and will be presented in the International Conference on Cyber-Physical Systems in April 2017.