Purdue professors part of NSF and DOD partnership to advance 5G communications - Department of Computer Science - Purdue University Skip to main content

Purdue professors part of NSF and DOD partnership to advance 5G communications


Graphic describing NSF program to securely advance 5G technologies and communications. Image Credit: National Science Foundation



The NSF is accelerating 5G solutions to assist the U.S. government and critical infrastructure operators to communicate securely by awarding $12M to 16 interdisciplinary teams.


Professors Elisa Bertino, Sonia Fahmy, and Muhammad Shahbaz are part of two separate teams involved in the research.  

The U.S. National Science Foundation is accelerating 5G solutions to assist the U.S. government and critical infrastructure operators to communicate securely anywhere and anytime. 

Partnering with the Department of Defense Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, or DOD OUSD(R&E) on an investment of $12 million, NSF has selected 16 multidisciplinary teams for the Convergence Accelerator program 2022 cohort for the research topic — Track G: Securely Operating Through 5G Infrastructure.   

Track G builds upon DOD's 5G Initiative — Operate Through — to assess and mitigate 5G vulnerabilities, inform 5G standards and policies through rigorous research, and promote technology development to advance 5G communications for the U.S. military and federal government. 



Combating Vulnerability and Unawareness in 5G Network Security

Professor Sonia Fahmy is a co-PI along with Assistant Professor Muhammad Shahbaz, both are part of the team led by University of Kansas in the project titled, Combating Vulnerability and Unawareness in 5G Network Security: Signaling and Full-Stack Approach.



Over the last ten years, 5G research and network deployments have engendered significant economic development and greatly improved lives around the world. At the same time, the Department of Defense (DoD) has made significant efforts to leverage commercial investments made in 5G networks. The push for DoD to rely heavily on 5G commercial systems is, however, problematic because commercial networks are not designed for many of the adversarial settings and electronic warfare (EW) scenarios common in military-hardened networks. Academic research must play an important role in addressing fundamental security challenges arising from the vulnerabilities and design weaknesses of 5G networks. Such challenges manifest themselves in major threats that threaten confidentiality, integrity, and availability of 5G networks such as eavesdropping on messages, spoofing and man-in-the-middle attacks, distributed denial of service (DDoS), and downgrading the service from 5G to 3G/2G. Historically, however, many of the security-related and adversarial problems common to DoD have been viewed as strictly outside of the academic research purview. The proposed project aims to change this by building upon the momentum to accelerate academic and industry research into secure beyond-5G wireless networks. The team is joining forces from academia, industry, and government with the focus on consolidating the ongoing 5G security-related research efforts of its members. The project will also contribute to workforce development by creating research experiences, involving both theory and experiments, for a diverse team of both undergraduate and graduate students.

The proposed research has three unique attributes that enable Zero Trust solutions: (a) Particular focus on signal/waveform level and 5G radio access network (RAN) security; (b) Fine-granular data-plane and control-plane threat detection, tracking, and defense mechanisms; and (c) Integration and evaluation via full-stack, Open RAN/Mobile Core testbed. DoD applications are the main motivation for the proposed solutions. To both narrow the scope of the efforts and make it more grounded, the proposed research will be organized across the following three interwoven aspects: (i) The modeling of threats at the user equipment (UE), RAN, Enhanced Data for Global Evolution (EDGE), backhaul, and 5G packet core levels to understand how suboptimal 5G networks are; (ii) The design of threat detection, tracking, and protection algorithms/mechanisms that effectively modify signaling at the 5G RAN and the software functions/protocols at the 5G Core for granular access control and encryption; and (iii) Formal verification of the various security requirements of service-based architecture in the context of 5G RAN, Core, and Internet Edge that use existing and novel programmable hardware. The level of visibility and controllability that this project enables would allow the 5G service-based architectures to adapt themselves quickly to make way for the military and other critical services in a secure and timely manner - similar to how cars make way for ambulances and fire trucks on the highways, sharing the same road infrastructure.



Professor Elisa Bertino is a co-PI on the project led by IBM, along with researchers from Penn State University. The project is titled, SMART-5G: Secure Multichannel Automated opeRations Through 5G Networks.

 "The NSFConvergenceAccelerator is an interesting program," said Bertino. She added, "It is designed to train participants to provide solutions that advance the secure and privacy-aware use of cellular networks. I believe the participation to this program in collaboration with my project partners will help me to enhance my technology transfer capabilities."



The objective of the SMART-5G project or Secure Multichannel Automated opeRations Through 5G Networks, is to develop a suite of technologies, tools and operational principles which will allow for the secure operation of military communications on civilian 5G infrastructure. We will employ the capabilities of Multi-access Edge Computers or MEC, for secure communication. By leveraging military-provided servers that are deployed within the 5G network infrastructure plus servers at the tactical edge and in the backend infrastructure, we show how a more secure operational environment can be obtained with a variety of techniques including: application of AI to network traffic inspection, policy-driven separation of traffic along a low-bandwidth secure communication path and a high-bandwidth insecure communication path, virtual multi-function authentication leveraging mobile edge computing mechanisms, and self-generation of security policies for automated operations.

To support the scenarios to be developed as part of the convergence research project, the team will develop a suite of technologies to enable military personnel to operate through the insecure 5G network without compromising security requirements, and group these technologies into three different, but inter-related thrusts: multi-channel exploitation, network situation awareness, and automation of security workflows. Multi-channel exploitation includes the use of multiple channels with different performance and security properties to provide the required environment for mission-critical applications. Network situation awareness provides information to users through monitoring and analysis of the traffic and activities in the 5G network; and, automation of security workflows use automation of security protocols to improve responsiveness to threats.

Over the next nine months, each team will work to develop their initial idea into a proof of concept, identify new team members and partners, and participate in the unique Convergence Accelerator innovation curriculum. The innovation curriculum includes fundamentals in human-centered design; team science; use-inspired research; early-stage prototyping; and communications, storytelling and pitching. At the end of Phase 1, the teams will participate in a formal Phase 2 proposal and pitch. The oral pitch and formal proposal will be used in selecting teams for Phase 2 — a 24-month solution and sustainability development phase.  



The Convergence Accelerator’s Track G: Securely Operating Through 5G Infrastructure overarching goal includes seeking enhancement to end devices and augmentations to 5G infrastructure, providing capabilities to military, government and critical infrastructure operators to operate through public 5G networks while meeting security and resilience requirements.  

The 16 awardees include: 

Launched in 2019, the Convergence Accelerator — a Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, or TIP, program — builds upon NSF's investment in basic research and discovery to accelerate solutions toward societal and economic impact. Convergence Accelerator multidisciplinary teams use convergence research fundamentals and innovation processes to stimulate innovative idea sharing and development of sustainable solutions. 

More information about the Convergence Accelerator program is available at: https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/initiatives/convergence-accelerator.  


About the Department of Computer Science at Purdue University

Founded in 1962, the Department of Computer Science was created to be an innovative base of knowledge in the emerging field of computing as the first degree-awarding program in the United States. The department continues to advance the computer science industry through research. US News & Reports ranks Purdue CS #20 and #18 overall in graduate and undergraduate programs respectively, ninth in both software engineering and cybersecurity, 13th in programming languages, 17th in computing systems, 22nd in theory, and 24th in artificial intelligence. Graduates of the program are able to solve complex and challenging problems in many fields. Our consistent success in an ever-changing landscape is reflected in the record undergraduate enrollment, increased faculty hiring, innovative research projects, and the creation of new academic programs. The increasing centrality of computer science in academic disciplines and society, and new research activities - centered around data science, artificial intelligence, programming languages, theoretical computer science, machine learning, and cybersecurity - are the future focus of the department. cs.purdue.edu


Parts of the article appeared originally in the NSF Press Release

Last Updated: Sep 27, 2022 1:13 PM

Department of Computer Science, 305 N. University Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907

Phone: (765) 494-6010 • Fax: (765) 494-0739

Copyright © 2024 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Copyright Complaints

Trouble with this page? Disability-related accessibility issue? Please contact the College of Science.