Published On: Wed, Dec 7th, 2022

FAU Receives NSF Grant For Secure Communications Over 5G Networks

People and assets deployed by the United States Department of Defense (U.S. DOD) in ground, sea, air and space require maintaining operational wireless network connectivity at all times to deter and defeat agile adversaries.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, Florida International University (FIU), Virginia Tech (VT) and PQSecure Technologies, have joined forces to create a universal radio adapter that will enable seamless and secure operations through non-cooperative indigenous 5G networks for U.S. military, government and critical infrastructure systems.

Dimitris Pados, Ph.D., principal investigator for FAU, Schmidt Eminent Scholar Professor, FAU Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, acting executive director of FAU’s Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering (I-SENSE) and director of the Center for Connected Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence (CA-AI). (Photo by Alex Dolce)

The research team has received a one-year, $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a project titled, “Autonomously Tunable Waveform-Agnostic Radio Adapter for Seamless and Secure Operation of DOD Devices Through Non-Cooperative 5G Networks.” The goal of the project is to reduce the likelihood of interception, disruption or jamming of communications over 5G networks.

The project is part of the NSF’s acceleration of 5G solutions to provide the U.S. government and critical infrastructure operators secure communications anywhere and anytime. The FAU, FIU, VT and PQ Secure Technologies effort is one of 16 multidisciplinary teams selected nationally by the NSF for the 2022 Convergence Accelerator program

“This cooperative research project will extend and enhance the capabilities of the participating universities, industry and community partners, and will provide a streamlined and stable platform for industry-university-community engagement and collaboration in the critical field of secure wireless communications,” said Stella Batalama, Ph.D., dean, FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Researchers will develop a waveform-agnostic adapter that will be compatible with U.S. DOD communication protocols that operate from HF up to the Ka-band and will be able to interact with indigenous 5G networks. The convergence research effort includes RF systems and antenna design, hardware-software co-design, software-defined radio prototyping, adaptive signal processing, data analytics and training dataset design  for robust artificial intelligence/machine learning, post-quantum-computing secure cryptography, physical layer security and interference avoidance, and policy and governance for secure communications.

The goal of the universal radio adapter is to accelerate transformative outcomes on how U.S. DOD personnel, aircrafts, satellites, mobile phones, vehicles, sensors, drones and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices operate through either friendly or adversary untrusted 5G network infrastructure and seamlessly connect with devices on trusted U.S. military networks, while providing end-to-end data integrity, confidentiality and resiliency by data hiding and by autonomously switching between communications pathways.

“5G is used to connect more than just mobile phones, expanding the so-called threat surface,” said Dimitris Pados, Ph.D., principal investigator for FAU, Schmidt Eminent Scholar Professor, FAU Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, acting executive director of FAU’s Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering (I-SENSE ) and director of the Center for Connected Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence (CA-AI). “The 5G radio access network standards offer increased spectral efficiency and new spectrum utilization such as millimeter-wave. The 5G core is designed to support a distributed architecture of microservices implemented on an elastic cloud-based backplane.”

Pados has served as PI/co-PI on federal (NSF, U.S. DOD) research grants totaling more than $19 million. Most recently, he led a multi-university, multi-industry U.S. DOD project to develop a first-of-its-kind cognitive wireless network from inception to testbed demonstration.

Utilizing these networks, the research team will carry out accelerated research and development to advance security and resiliency of end systems connecting to 5G networks and leveraging zero trust principles where possible.

“The end objective of the project is to develop and implement new solutions that will enable us to communicate securely through arbitrary public 5G networks that may be friendly or not,” said Pados. “Our solutions involve advanced authentication techniques, re-encryption and data hiding. Success of this effort will have profound impact on privacy and the future of daily civilian use of the networks.”

The industrial, community and government lab members’ direct involvement in research planning and review will potentially result in quick future technology transfer and ensure that the research is industry-ready and addresses major national and international-scale high-impact societal challenges through use-inspired convergence research. 

Beyond the scientific and societal benefits, the research team will engage in educational/outreach activities. The team will develop a research center in 5G technologies to train undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students, focusing on recruiting Hispanic, women and other underrepresented populations with a goal to strengthen their competitive skillsets in areas of future STEM employment.

“We anticipate that these activities will motivate underrepresented minority/female high school students to pursue engineering,” said Batalama. “Our researchers are already working with students from the Suncoast Community High School in Riviera Beach and FAU’s A.D. Henderson University School.” 

High school students will be provided with hands-on experience by working with graduate and undergraduate students at the FIU-RFCOM Lab, FAU’s I-SENSE and FAU CA-AI labs, creating a pipeline of these students trained on wireless technologies that are of strong interest to Florida industries. 

The project team includes George Sklivanitis, Ph.D., research assistant professor with the FAU Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, I-SENSE and CA-AI; Elias Alwan, Ph.D., principal investigator and an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at FIU; Luke Beckwith, Ph.D., PQSecure and recent FAU Ph.D. graduate; John Volakis, Ph.D., dean and professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at FIU; and Eric Burger, Ph.D., research professor of computer science at Virginia Tech.

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