By Tara Roberts
As the nation’s transportation systems become increasingly wired, they are also becoming bigger
targets for hackers. Researchers with the National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology
(NIATT) at the University of Idaho are developing ways to keep transportation systems safe, efficient and
dependable as technology advances.
“Most of our transportation systems are now evolving, relying on a complex network of computers and
communication devices,” says Ahmed Abdel-Rahim, an associate professor of civil engineering who
works on cybersecurity issues as part of his NIATT research activities.
The engineers who design and manage these critical infrastructure networks must consider
cybersecurity measures as vital parts of their operations. Hackers target everything from large-scale
transportation management systems to the auto-payment information used on toll roads and transit to
the digital messaging signs that alert drivers to changes on the highway.
Abdel-Rahim is working on multiple projects that exemplify the importance of transportation
In collaboration with the Idaho Department of Transportation, he is part of a research team that is
developing a traffic signal control system that can respond to weather conditions and react in real time,
giving drivers increased stopping time on icy or wet roads. As he builds a prototype for testing with
actual traffic, he must ensure the system is secure, dependable and resists hacking attempts.
The research team also studies vehicle-to-vehicle wireless communications for connected vehicle
applications. Vehicles using this type of system broadcast messages about their position, direction and
speed. Other vehicles receive these messages, analyze them and automatically react to prevent crashes.
“Cyberattacks on critical infrastructure networks, such as the transportation networks, can cause wide-
scale disruption of essential transportation services,” Abdel-Rahim says.
Abdel-Rahim is part of a multidisciplinary team at U-Idaho that focuses on cybersecurity for critical
transportation, computing and power infrastructure. In 2012, the Idaho Legislature created the Idaho
Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM), which has awarded grants to support the Center for Secure and
Dependable Systems (CSDS) and to hire five new faculty members to focus on cybersecurity issues.
The CSDS, which is hosted by the College of Engineering, brings together faculty and students from
multiple departments to collaborate on research and educational efforts related to secure computing