The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Virginia Tech a $3 million grant for research on electric vehicle charging infrastructure cybersecurity as part of a larger $80 million investment by the department on advanced technologies research.

As the world shifts to a higher production and usage of electric vehicles, the charging network will be seen as critical infrastructure and require protection. 

Ryan Gerdes, assistant professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering, will lead the research collaboration of university and industry researchers, vehicle and charger manufacturers, and a utility operator to develop comprehensive solutions that will mitigate or eliminate these threats and ensure the reliability of electric vehicle-based transportation, more specifically to decrease the time it takes to charge an electric vehicle in a secure and efficient manner.

“We will work to develop systems to protect the infrastructure for fast charging: controllers, converters, and monitoring systems. In addition, we will address user privacy by using secure sensing and 'smart' defense systems,” said Gerdes. “The process will deploy remote updates to successfully address system vulnerability. We look forward to testing the technologies on a real-world testbed that includes an extremely fast charging unit and battery electric vehicle situated in a microgrid.”

Gerdes, also a faculty affiliate in Virginia Tech’s Hume Center for National Security and Technology, works with the center in the area of cybersecurity and cyber-physical systems security. The electric vehicle is a typical example of one of the systems in this body of research because the systems interact with the physical world and present unique security challenges.

Additional Virginia Tech researchers working on the project, “Enabling Secure and Resilient XFC: A Software/Hardware-Security Co-Design Approach,” are Kevin Heaslip, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and affiliate of the Hume Center; Saifur Rahman, the Joseph Loring Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Manisa Pipattanasomporn, research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

With OnBoard Security, an industry leader in automotive cybersecurity solutions, Gerdes and team will assess overall electric vehicles charging units and hardware designs. Collectively, the team then will provide recommendations for more resilient charging systems and create new software and charging architectures that will ensure a safer and guaranteed remediation of vulnerabilities while respecting user privacy.

“Electric vehicles are potentially vulnerable to attacks via the charging stations that could lead to stolen personal and financial information, vehicle damage, or even attacks on the electrical grid,” explained Jonathan Petit, senior director of research at OnBoard Security. “The grant will allow my research team, along with experts from Virginia Tech and other partners, to evaluate these attack vectors and recommend solutions.”

The research grant represents the type of translational research in cybersecurity envisioned by the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI). By bringing together federal funding and industry partnerships, university researchers are able to tackle key challenges in the cyber domain and have paths to market for the resulting technologies. Additionally, the grant uniquely aligns with two key cybersecurity focus areas: transportation and energy.

In June, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed the 2018-20 budget that includes $25 million for CCI. Higher education institutions, business and technology firms, and government and nongovernment organizations seek to build an ecosystem of research, education, and engagement that positions Virginia as a world leader in cybersecurity and addresses workforce needs. The initiative calls for a primary hub, anchored by Virginia Tech and located in Northern Virginia, and a network of sites across the commonwealth.

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