Integrated moving target defense and control reconfiguration for securing Cyber-Physical systems

Bradley Potteiger, Zhenkai Zhang, Xenofon Koutsoukos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


With the increasingly connected nature of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS), new attack vectors are emerging that were previously not considered in the design process. Specifically, autonomous vehicles are one of the most at risk CPS applications, including challenges such as a large amount of legacy software, non-trusted third party applications, and remote communication interfaces. With zero day vulnerabilities constantly being discovered, an attacker can exploit such vulnerabilities to inject malicious code or even leverage existing legitimate code to take over the cyber part of a CPS. Due to the tightly coupled nature of CPS, this can lead to altering physical behavior in an undesirable or devastating manner. Therefore, it is no longer effective to reactively harden systems, but a more proactive approach must be taken. Moving target defense (MTD) techniques such as instruction set randomization (ISR), and address space randomization (ASR) have been shown to be effective against code injection and code reuse attacks. However, these MTD techniques can result in control system crashing which is unacceptable in CPS applications since such crashing may cause catastrophic consequences. Therefore, it is crucial for MTD techniques to be complemented by control reconfiguration to maintain system availability in the event of a cyber-attack. This paper addresses the problem of maintaining system and security properties of a CPS under attack by integrating moving target defense techniques, as well as detection, and recovery mechanisms to ensure safe, reliable, and predictable system operation. Specifically, we consider the problem of detecting code injection as well as code reuse attacks, and reconfiguring fast enough to ensure the safety and stability of autonomous vehicle controllers are maintained. By using MTD such as ISR, and ASR, our approach provides the advantage of preventing attackers from obtaining the reconnaissance knowledge necessary to perform code injection and code reuse attacks, making sure attackers can't find vulnerabilities in the first place. Our system implementation includes a combination of runtime MTD utilizing AES 256 ISR and fine grained ASR, as well as control management that utilizes attack detection, and reconfiguration capabilities. We evaluate the developed security architecture in an autonomous vehicle case study, utilizing a custom developed hardware-in-the-loop testbed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102954
JournalMicroprocessors and Microsystems
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • Address space randomization
  • Cyber-Physical systems
  • Instruction set randomization
  • Moving target defenses
  • Resiliency


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