U.S. DoD personnel and assets deployed in ground, sea, air, and space must always maintain operational wireless network connectivity across all warfighting domains and throughout the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum to deter and defeat agile adversaries who increasingly seek to undermine its strategic and operational strengths by impeding and denying U.S. DoD’s command and control capabilities. Florida International University (FIU), Florida Atlantic University (FAU), Virginia Tech (VT), and PQSecure Technologies LLC join forces to create a universal radio adapter that will enable seamless and secure operation through non-cooperative indigenous 5G networks for U.S. military, government, and critical infrastructure systems. The goal of the proposed universal radio adapter is to accelerate transformative outcomes on how DoD personnel, aircrafts, satellites, mobile phones, vehicles, sensors, drones, and other IoT devices operate through either friendly or adversary untrusted 5G network infrastructure and seamlessly connect with devices on trusted U.S. military networks, while providing end-to-end data integrity, confidentiality and resiliency by data hiding and by autonomously switching between communications pathways. Through this research, FIU (the only Majority-Minority Carnegie R1 Research University in the U.S.) and FAU (a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution) will develop a research center in 5G and beyond technologies to train undergraduates/graduates Hispanic and other minorities students in 5G wireless systems, post-quantum cryptography, physical layer and network security. VT (Arlington Campus) will serve as a bridge for FIU/FAU student workforce and DoD labs/government agencies. PQSecure is a small business that has already completed several projects on quantum-safe cryptography for NSF and DoD. The research will further advance educational efforts in FIU, FAU, and VT to broaden participation of women and other underrepresented groups in STEM through curriculum development, REU programs, and PQSecure internships.
The proposed waveform-agnostic adapter will be compatible with U.S. DoD terrestrial and satellite communication protocols that operate from HF up to the Ka-band and will be able to interact with indigenous 5G ground or space-based networks that operate from the UHF up to the Ka-band. To trust the services provided by indigenous 5G infrastructure (treated as a black-box), the proposed convergence research effort will carry out accelerated research and development to enhance security and resiliency of end systems connecting to 5G networks, leveraging zero-trust principles where possible. The team’s workplan is organized in four technical thrusts: 1) Authentication of end users and devices will be carried out by a universal radio adapter that combines multi-band and multi-functional RF front-ends to connect to the black-box 5G network; 2) Data integrity and confidentiality will be enhanced by strong security protection at the physical layer (as a first line of defense) by exploiting unique characteristics of the wireless communication channel, the universal adapter hardware, and/or 5G core network as unique entropy sources; 3) Low size, weight, power and cost (SWaP-C) implementations of post-quantum cryptography (PQC) and standard ciphers will be adopted by the universal radio adapter to enable interoperability with the existing and a future “quantum-ready” 5G RAN/core and facilitate accelerated smooth transition to public-key based mechanisms based on the latest NIST PQC standards; 4) Data hiding techniques that securely embed data to popular application traffic of the 5G network and hide the act of embedding will be implemented at the universal adapter to disguise U.S. DoD end devices to simply undistinguished users of the network. Overall, the project will contribute to enhancements to U.S. DoD end devices to enable transformative outcomes in their connectivity, offering multi-Gbps data rates, while meeting necessary security and resilience requirements.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.