VibeRing: An out-of-band channel for sharing secret keys

Health-oriented smart devices, such as a blood-glucose monitor, collect meaningful data when they are in use and in physical contact with their user. The smart device’s (“smartThing’s”) wireless connectivity allows it to transfer that data to its user’s trusted device, for example a smartphone. However, an adversary could impersonate the user and bootstrap a communication channel with the smartThing while the smartThing is being used by an oblivious legitimate user. 

To address this problem, in this paper, we investigate the use of vibration, generated by a smartRing, as an out-of-band communication channel to unobtrusively share a secret with a smartThing. This exchanged secret can be used to bootstrap a secure wireless channel over which the smartphone (or another trusted device) and the smartThing can communicate. We present the design, implementation, and evaluation of this system, which we call VibeRing. We describe the hardware and software details of the smartThing and smartRing. Through a user study we demonstrate that it is possible to share a secret with various objects quickly, accurately and securely as compared to several existing techniques.

Sougata Sen and David Kotz. VibeRing: Using vibrations from a smart ring as an out-of-band channel for sharing secret keys. Journal of Pervasive and Mobile Computing, volume 78, article 101505, 16 pages. Elsevier, December 2021. doi:10.1016/j.pmcj.2021.101505. ©Copyright Elsevier. Revision of sen:vibering.

New THaW Patent

The THaW team is pleased to announce one new patent derived from THaW research. For the complete list of patents, visit our Tech Transfer page.

Abstract: Apparatuses that provide for secure wireless communications between wireless devices under cover of one or more jamming signals. Each such apparatus includes at least one data antenna and at least one jamming antenna. During secure-communications operations, the apparatus transmits a data signal containing desired data via the at least one data antenna while also at least partially simultaneously transmitting a jamming signal via the at least one jamming antenna. When a target antenna of a target device is in close proximity to the data antenna and is closer to the data antenna than to the jamming antenna, the target device can successfully receive the desired data contained in the data signal because the data signal is sufficiently stronger than the jamming signal within a finite secure-communications envelope due to the Inverse Square Law of signal propagation. Various related methods and machine-executable instructions are also disclosed.

Image describes the steps to ensure secure wireless data transfer between devices.

Timothy J. Pierson, Ronald Peterson, and David Kotz. Apparatuses, Methods, and Software For Secure Short-Range Wireless Communication. U.S. Patent 11,153,026, October 19, 2021. Download from https://patents.google.com/patent/US11153026B2/en

See also: Timothy J. Pierson, Travis Peters, Ronald Peterson, and David Kotz. CloseTalker: secure, short-range ad hoc wireless communication. Proceedings of the ACM International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services (MobiSys), pages 340–352. ACM, June 2019. doi:10.1145/3307334.3326100. [Details]

New THaW Paper on Recurring Device Verification

An IoT device user with a blood-pressure monitoring device should have the assurance that the device operates how a blood-pressure monitor should operate. If the monitor is connected to a measurement app that collects, stores, and reports data, but interacts in a way that is inconsistent with typical interactions for this type of device, there may be cause for concern. The reality of ubiquitous connectivity and frequent mobility gives rise to a myriad of opportunities for devices to be compromised. Thus, we argue that one-time, single-factor, device-to-device authentication (i.e., an initial pairing) is not enough, and that there must exist some mechanism to frequently (re-)verify the authenticity of devices and their connections.

In this paper we propose a device-to-device recurring authentication scheme – Verification of Interaction Authenticity (VIA) – that is based on evaluating characteristics of the communications (interactions) between devices. We adapt techniques from wireless traffic analysis and intrusion detection systems to develop behavioral models that capture typical, authentic device interactions (behavior); these models enable recurring verification of device behavior. 

To read more, check out the paper here.

Travis Peters, Timothy J. Pierson, Sougata Sen, José Camacho, and David Kotz. Recurring Verification of Interaction Authenticity Within Bluetooth Networks. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Security and Privacy in Wireless and Mobile Networks (WiSec 2021), pages 192–203. ACM, June 2021. doi:10.1145/3448300.3468287. ©

THaW publications

cover sheet of the report

Seven years ago, the National Science Foundation’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program awarded a grant creating the Trustworthy Health and Wellness (THaW) project. Most project activities have now wound down, after publishing more than a hundred journal papers, conference papers, workshop contributions, dissertations, theses, patents, and more. We just released an annotated bibliography, with all the references organized in a Zotero library that provides ready access to citation materials and abstracts. In the annotated bibliography we organize papers by cluster (category), identify content tags, and give a brief annotation summarizing the work’s contribution. Thanks to Carl Landwehr for leading this important summary of THaW work!

LightTouch – Connecting Wearables to Ambient Displays

Connectivity reached new extremes, when wearable technologies enabled smart device communications to appear where analogue watches, rings, and vision-enhancing glasses used to sit. Risks of sensitive data being wrongly transmitted, as a result of malicious or non-malicious intent, grow alongside these new technologies. To ensure that this continued interconnectivity of smart devices and wearables is safe and secure, the THaW team devised, published, and patented LightTouch. This technology, conceptually compatible with existing smart bracelet and display designs, uses optical sensors on the smart device and digital radio links to create a shared secret key that enables the secure and private connection between devices.

LightTouch makes it easy for a person to securely connect their wearable device to a computerized device they encounter, for the purpose of viewing information from their device and possibly sharing that information with nearby acquaintances. To learn more, check out this recent Spotlight in IEEE Computer, or click the links below to read the journal article, the patent specifics, or the conference presentation.


Xiaohui Liang, Ronald Peterson, and David Kotz. Securely Connecting Wearables to Ambient Displays with User IntentIEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing 17(4), pages 676–690, July 2020. IEEE. DOI: 10.1109/TDSC.2018.2840979

Xiaohui Liang, Tianlong Yun, Ron Peterson, and David Kotz. Secure System For Coupling Wearable Devices To Computerized Devices with Displays, March 2020. USPTO; U.S. Patent 10,581,606; USPTO. Download from https://patents.google.com/patent/US20170279612A1/en — Priority date 2014-08-18, Grant date 2020-03-03.

Xiaohui Liang, Tianlong Yun, Ronald Peterson, and David Kotz. LightTouch: Securely Connecting Wearables to Ambient Displays with User Intent. In IEEE International Conference on Computer Communications (INFOCOM), May 2017. IEEE. DOI: 10.1109/INFOCOM.2017.8057210

#NSFStories

How to curtail oversensing in the home

Recent THaW paper:

Future homes are an IoT hotspot that will be particularly at risk. Sensitive information such as passwords, identification, and financial transactions are abundant in the home—as are sensor systems such as digital assistants, smartphones, and interactive home appliances that may unintentionally capture this sensitive information. For example, how motion sensors can capture nearby sounds, including words and keystrokes. We call this oversensing: where authorized access to sensor data provides an application with superfluous and potentially sensitive information. Manufacturers and system designers must employ the principle of least privilege at a more fine-grained level and with awareness of how often different sensors overlap in the sensitive information they leak. We project that directing technical efforts toward a more holistic conception of sensor data in system design and permissioning will reduce risks of oversensing.

Connor Bolton, Kevin Fu, Josiah Hester, and Jun Han. How to curtail oversensing in the homeCommunications of the ACM 63(6), pages 20–24, June 2020. ACM. DOI: 10.1145/3396261

New THaW Patent

The THaW team is pleased to announce one new patent derived from THaW research. For the complete list of patents, visit our Tech Transfer page.

Abstract: Systems and methods are disclosed for providing a trusted computing environment that provides data security in commodity computing systems. Such systems and methods deploy a flexible architecture comprised of distributed trusted platform modules (TPMs) configured to establish a root-of-trust within a heterogeneous network environment comprised of non-TPM enabled IoT devices and legacy computing devices. A data traffic module is positioned between a local area network and one or more non-TPM enabled IoT devices and legacy computing devices, and is configured to control and monitor data communication among such IoT devices and legacy computing devices and from such IoT devices and legacy computing devices to external computers. The data traffic module supports attestation of the IoT devices and legacy computing devices, supports secure boot operations of the IoT devices and legacy computing devices, and provides tamper resistance to such IoT devices and legacy computing devices.

Kevin Kornegay and Willie Lee Thompson II. Decentralized Root-of-Trust Framework for Heterogeneous Networks, November 2020. Morgan State University; USPTO. Download from https://patents.google.com/patent/US20180196945A1/en

VibeRing: Using vibrations from a smart ring as an out-of-band channel for sharing secret keys

A recent THaW paper was nominated for Best Paper at the IoT conference:

With the rapid growth in the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices with wireless communication capabilities, and sensitive information collection capabilities, it is becoming increasingly necessary to ensure that these devices communicate securely with only authorized devices. A major requirement of this secure communication is to ensure that both the devices share a secret, which can be used for secure pairing and encrypted communication. Manually imparting this secret to these devices becomes an unnecessary overhead, especially when the device interaction is transient. In this work, we empirically investigate the possibility of using an out-of-band communication channel – vibration, generated by a custom smartRing – to share a secret with a compatible IoT device. Through a user study with 12 participants we show that in the best case we can exchange 85.9% messages successfully. Our technique demonstrates the possibility of sharing messages accurately, quickly, and securely as compared to several existing techniques.

To learn more, check out the video presentation here.

Sougata Sen and David Kotz. VibeRing: Using vibrations from a smart ring as an out-of-band channel for sharing secret keys. In Proceedings of the International Conference on the Internet of Things (IoT), page Article#13 (8 pages), October 2020. ACM. DOI: 10.1145/3341162.3343818

Two faces of Mobile Sensing

A PhD dissertation from a recent ThaW graduate.

The recent popularization of mobile devices equipped with high-performance sensors has given rise to the fast development of mobile sensing technology. Mobile sensing applications, such as gesture recognition, vital sign monitoring, localization, and identification analyze the signals generated by human activities and environment changes, and thus get a better understanding of the environment and human behaviors. While benefiting people’s lives, the growing capability of Mobile Sensing would also spawn new threats to security and privacy. On one hand, while the commercialization of new mobile devices enlarges the design space, it is challenging to design effective mobile sensing systems, which use fewer or cheaper sensors and achieve better performance or more functionalities. On the other hand, attackers can utilize the sensing strategies to track victims’ activities and cause privacy leakages. Mobile sensing attacks usually use side channels and target the information hidden in non-textual data. I present the Mobile Sensing Application-Attack (MSAA) framework, a general model showing the structures of mobile sensing applications and attacks, and how the two faces — the benefits and threats — are connected. MSAA reflects our principles of designing effective mobile sensing systems and exploring information leakages. Our experiment results show that our applications can achieve satisfactory performance, and also confirm the threats of privacy leakage if they are maliciously used, which reveals the two faces of mobile sensing.

Tuo Yu. Two faces of Mobile SensingPhD thesis, May 2020. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Download from http://hdl.handle.net/2142/107938

Mobile devices based eavesdropping of handwriting

Recent THaW paper:

When filling out privacy-related forms in public places such as hospitals or clinics, people usually are not aware that the sound of their handwriting can leak personal information. In this paper, we explore the possibility of eavesdropping on handwriting via nearby mobile devices based on audio signal processing and machine learning. By presenting a proof-of-concept system, WritingHacker, we show the usage of mobile devices to collect the sound of victims’ handwriting, and to extract handwriting-specific features for machine learning based analysis. An attacker can keep a mobile device, such as a common smartphone, touching the desk used by the victim to record the audio signals of handwriting. Then, the system can provide a word-level estimate for the content of the handwriting. Moreover, if the relative position between the device and the handwriting is known, a hand motion tracking method can be further applied to enhance the system’s performance. Our prototype system’s experimental results show that the accuracy of word recognition reaches around 70 – 80 percent under certain conditions, which reveals the danger of privacy leakage through the sound of handwriting.

July 2020: Tuo Yu, Haiming Jin, and Klara Nahrstedt. Mobile devices based eavesdropping of handwritingIEEE Transactions on Mobile Computing 19(7), pages 1649–1663, July 2020. IEEE. DOI: 10.1109/TMC.2019.2912747