CIRI project quantifying risks of 5G for critical infrastructure

3/15/2024 11:49:45 AM Jenny Applequist

Iris Tien
Iris Tien

As society’s critical infrastructure systems become increasingly interconnected with communication networks, those interdependencies are presenting vulnerabilities that wrongdoers could exploit. The good news? Researchers are working hard to anticipate those vulnerabilities before malicious actors get the opportunity to leverage them.

One example of that work is an ongoing project, funded by UIUC’s Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute (CIRI), that is finding ways to quantify the seriousness of risks so that relative risks can be compared, and mitigation activities prioritized.

The project’s principal investigator, Iris Tien, explained that her project is focusing specifically on the transition to 5G for cellular networks, and examining the various ways 5G networks will be intertwined with other critical infrastructure.

“A lot of our recent work is focusing on connected and automated vehicles, and smart transportation systems that are being planned and beginning to be built out, using 5G for vehicle-to-vehicle communication as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure communication,” said Tien, who is the Williams Family Associate Professor in the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Components of such future systems might include roadside built infrastructure that sends messages to vehicles, or vehicles that can communicate with each other about things like distances and speeds. Such technologies would be desirable, for example, in helping vehicles maintain safe distances and brake when needed.

Many experts in government agencies and elsewhere have identified concerns associated with 5G, but, according to Tien, they mostly haven’t gone beyond saying “these are items that we see as potential risks.” Little effort has been made to determine how much risk is presented by each of the identified vulnerabilities.

“What we really want to do is to be able to quantify what those risks are, so that we can do comparisons and prioritizations,” said Tien. The goal is to know if projected impacts of scenario A are more likely to be severe than those of scenario B, and budget resources accordingly.

Three years into the project, Tien’s team has successfully developed a methodology for quantifying risks associated with 5G when it is used for connected and automated vehicles and smart transportation systems.

“The methodology utilizes microscale simulations of vehicles in an urban setting,” she explained. “We’re able to track individual vehicles and include the vehicle-to-vehicle as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure communications in that whole network. All of the vehicles, for example, have routes through the network: they have origins, destinations, and they’re moving through. And then we can situate 5G infrastructure within the network, and also include those communications.”

Tien said that with that framework in place, the team can add disruptions to it and see what happens. “We can say, if there is signal jamming in this part of the network, what happens to the other vehicles? What if there’s a fake message that comes through the network in this location? How does that ripple through the whole network; how does it affect vehicles across the network?”

The current project has about a year remaining, and in that time, Tien plans to expand the analyses conducted using the developed methodology, fine-tune parameters, run specific scenarios, and perform comparisons across the parameters and scenarios to identify the biggest emerging threats to these critical systems.