Preserving Physical Safety under Cyber Attacks

Fardin Abdi, Chien Ying Chen, Monowar Hasan, Songran Liu, Sibin Mohan, Marco Caccamo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Physical plants that form the core of the cyber-physical systems (CPSs) often have stringent safety requirements and, recent attacks have shown that cyber intrusions can cause damage to these plant. In this paper, we demonstrate how to ensure the safety of the physical plant even when the platform is compromised. We leverage the fact that due to physical inertia, an adversary cannot destabilize the plant (even with complete control over the software) instantaneously. In fact, it often takes finite (even considerable time). This paper provides the analytical framework that utilizes this property to compute safe operational windows in run-time during which the safety of the plant is guaranteed. To ensure the correctness of the computations in runtime, we discuss two approaches to ensure the integrity of these computations in an untrusted environment: 1) full platform-wide restarts coupled with a root-of-trust timer and 2) utilizing trusted execution environment features available in hardware. We demonstrate our approach using two realistic systems - a 3 degree-of-freedom helicopter and a simulated warehouse temperature management unit and show that our system is robust against multiple emulated attacks - essentially the attackers are not able to compromise the safety of the CPS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8590791
Pages (from-to)6285-6300
Number of pages16
JournalIEEE Internet of Things Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Cyber-physical systems (CPSs)
  • embedded systems
  • real-time systems
  • safety-critical systems
  • security

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Signal Processing
  • Information Systems
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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