Academic researchers say they have invented a transmitter that can secure billions of Internet of Things products by individually scattering each bit of data that a device wirelessly sends out onto different radio frequency channels, thus preventing attackers from intercepting a full packet and manipulating its data.
In essence, the transmitter performs a new-and-improved version of a technique called “frequency hopping,” according to a press release issued by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the technology was developed.
Traditional frequency hopping breaks data down into large packets, but the process is just slow enough for adept hackers to still attack them. However, the new transmitter hops each individual “1” or “0” bit to a unique, random frequency every microsecond. Attackers simply cannot keep up with such a frenetic pace, the release explains.
The transmitter works by leveraging bulk acoustic wave (BAW) resonators, which can quickly shift between RF channel frequencies. Although BAW resonators typically only span four-to-five hegahertz of frequency channels, the researchers were able to divide their resonator’s frequencies into about 80 channels, thereby making the technology viable.
The researchers, who additionally created a new wireless protocol capable of supporting this process, have authored a paper about their breakthrough, which they are presenting today at IEEE Radio Frequency Integrated Circuits Symposium in Philadelphia.
“With the current existing [transmitter] architecture, you wouldn’t be able to hop data bits at that speed with low power,” says researcher Rabia Yazicigil, postdoc in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, in MIT’s release. “By developing this protocol and radio frequency architecture together, we offer physical-layer security for connectivity of everything.”
Yazicigil adds that the transmitter could secure, among other products, “medical devices, such as insulin pumps and pacemakers, that could be attacked if a hacker wants to harm someone.”
MIT has identified the remaining research authors as Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS); former MIT postdoc Phillip Nadeau; former MIT undergraduate student Daniel Richman; EECS graduate student Chiraag Juvekar; and visiting research student Kapil Vaidya. Their work was supported by the Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Fund, the National Science Foundation, Texas Instruments and the TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) University Shuttle Program.
SC Media has reached out to MIT for additional details.