Technology team gets green light to tackle traffic signal system cybersecurity challenges

From left: Dr. Yunpeng (Jack) Zhang, Dr. Liang Chieh (Victor) Cheng, Dr. Lu Gao, Dr. Xuqing (Jason) Wu
From left: Dr. Yunpeng (Jack) Zhang, Dr. Liang Chieh (Victor) Cheng, Dr. Lu Gao, Dr. Xuqing (Jason) Wu

Technologies for traffic signal systems have come a long way since their invention, evolving from standalone towers coordinated through synchronized electric time clocks to a series of networked computers controlled by sophisticated software programs.

Although technology has greatly improved, protecting network-based traffic signal systems from being vulnerable to cybersecurity threats is a critical issue.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has awarded $173,800 to a team of University of Houston (UH) College of Technology researchers to identify network and physical vulnerabilities by examining traffic signal systems and the general practices used to secure their traffic signal system infrastructures.

The research team will assess the vulnerabilities and potential consequences of different types of attacks on traffic signal systems in five Texas municipalities. Led by Dr. Yunpeng (Jack) Zhang, assistant professor in the Information and Logistics Technology Department and Principal Investigator (PI), the project, "Investigating the Security of TxDOT's Traffic Signal Systems", is a joint collaboration between UH researchers in the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology at Texas Southern University (TSU), Dr. Fengxiang Qiao, associate professor, and Dr. Lei Yu, professor and dean. The UH research team includes two other information and logistics technology professors, Dr. Liang Chieh (Victor) Cheng and Dr. Xuqing (Jason) Wu as Co PI's; and, construction management professor Dr. Lu Gao.

"Traffic signal system security breaches caused by design flaws could jeopardize public safety by disrupting the traffic patterns," said Dr. Zhang. "Our goal is to develop a test plan that thoroughly assesses the security vulnerabilities of TxDOT's traffic signal systems."

A newcomer to the University of Houston College of Technology faculty, Dr. Yunpeng Zhang has worked for several universities, including Boise State University, Dakota State University, University of Melbourne (Australia) and Imperial College London (U.K.). His research interests include cybersecurity and software engineering. He has invented more than 30 high-performance security algorithms/methods, and developed eight software systems. Zhang has published numerous papers in peer-reviewed journals and conferences, several books and book chapters. He also holds six patents, and has participated in many international conferences - serving in various roles including session chair and keynote speaker.

Equally dedicated to academic service, he incorporates his research into existing or new courses and projects and has guided students into successful careers.