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Privacy of Sudden Events in Cyber-Physical Systems

Time: Mon 2021-09-13 16.00

Location:, U61, Brinellvägen 26, Stockholm

Subject area: Electrical Engineering

Doctoral student: Rijad Alisic , Reglerteknik

Opponent: Professor Sandip Roy,

Supervisor: Professor Henrik Sandberg, ACCESS Linnaeus Centre, Reglerteknik; Professor Karl H. Johansson, Reglerteknik, ACCESS Linnaeus Centre


Cyberattacks against critical infrastructures has been a growing problem for the past couple of years. These infrastructures are a particularly desirable target for adversaries, due to their vital importance in society. For instance, a stop in the operation of a critical infrastructure could result in a crippling effect on a nation's economy, security or public health. The reason behind this increase is that critical infrastructures have become more complex, often being integrated with a large network of various cyber components. It is through these cyber components that an adversary is able to access the system and conduct their attacks.

In this thesis, we consider methods which can be used as a first line of defence against such attacks for Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS). Specifically, we start by studying how information leaks about a system's dynamics helps an adversary to generate attacks that are difficult to detect. In many cases, such attacks can be detrimental to a CPS since they can drive the system to a breaking point without being detected by the operator that is tasked to secure the system. We show that an adversary can use small amounts of data procured from information leaks to generate these undetectable attacks. In particular, we provide the minimal amount of information that is needed in order to keep the attack hidden even if the operator tries to probe the system for attacks. 

We design defence mechanisms against such information leaks using the Hammersley-Chapman-Robbins lower bound. With it, we study how information leakage could be mitigated through corruption of the data by injection of measurement noise. Specifically, we investigate how information about structured input sequences, which we call events, can be obtained through the output of a dynamical system and how this leakage depends on the system dynamics. For example, it is shown that a system with fast dynamical modes tends to disclose more information about an event compared to a system with slower modes. However, a slower system leaks information over a longer time horizon, which means that an adversary who starts to collect information long after the event has occured might still be able to estimate it. Additionally, we show how sensor placements can affect the information leak. These results are then used to aid the operator to detect privacy vulnerabilities in the design of a CPS.

Based on the Hammersley-Chapman-Robbins lower bound, we provide additional defensive mechanisms that can be deployed by an operator online to minimize information leakage. For instance, we propose a method to modify the structured inputs in order to maximize the usage of the existing noise in the system. This mechanism allows us to explicitly deal with the privacy-utility trade-off, which is of interest when optimal control problems are considered. Finally, we show how the adversary's certainty of the event increases as a function of the number of samples they collect. For instance, we provide sufficient conditions for when their estimation variance starts to converge to its final value. This information can be used by an operator to estimate when possible attacks from an adversary could occur, and change the CPS before that, rendering the adversary's collected information useless.