Student Spotlight: Researching Safe Automobiles

November 01, 2007

With more high tech features, new cars demand increased network security.

Ramu Panayappan (Pittsburgh MSIN, Class of 2008) is currently researching secure vehicular networks for his master's thesis, as part of an ECE department project in collaboration with General Motors. Ramu is conducting research on the topic with an ECE Ph.D. student, Ahren Studer, under the supervision of Adrian Perrig, Professor of ECE, EPP, and CS.

Vehicular network, known as VANET (Vehicular Ad-Hoc Network), is a kind of mobile ad-hoc network that provides communication from vehicle to vehicle and from vehicle to fixed roadside units. Recently, VANET technology has focused to serve Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) with the goal to increase safety and comfort on the road. Examples of its various applications include traffic alerts, automatic braking systems, obstacle detection and collision avoidance and Internet access.

With the demand of VANET technology increasing, there is an alarming need for these communications to be secure, especially for use in the real world. Consider the case of an automatic braking system. This system enables the vehicle to sense any obstacle on the road, or another vehicle ahead, and applies the brake when there is the risk of collision. It would be essential to ensure the information transmitted over the network is correct and the source of information is authentic in order to protect the vehicle from possible attacks.

Ramu chose the topic for his master's thesis because of a strong interest in security problems and VANET technology's broad scope of new security problems to solve. In particular, Ramu is working on a parking availability notification and a parking spot locator, which a driver would use to park efficiently. With a focus on security, Ramu will analyze various vulnerabilities of the model and build an infrastructure for secure communication.

Contributed by Eunjung Yoon, MS18