New York Times Features THaW Research Into Acoustic Device Hacking


THaW researcher Kevin Fu’s work on acoustic device hacking has recently been featured in the New York Times. The article discusses the team’s work on using acoustic signals to fool sensors in mobile device, and create the potential for security violations. For more information beyond the article, click here for a quick video, or read the complete paper below.

WALNUT: Waging Doubt on the Integrity of MEMS Accelerometers with Acoustic Injection Attacks

CENTURION Explores New Methods In Crowd-Sourced Data Collection

THaW researchers Haiming Jin and Klara Nahrstedt of UIUIC, in collaboration with Lu Su of SUNY Buffalo, recently had a paper accepted to IEEE INFOCOM 2017. Entitled CENTURION, the research explores the incentivization of participants in crowd sourced data collection. Notably, CENTURION rethinks the existing model of crowd sourced data collection (one consumer, one set of incentives), and instead takes the novel approach of applying a double auction model with multiple consumers and multiple incentives. The result is a system that can guarantee non-negative social welfare impact, among other benefits. To explore CENTURION further, click below.


Wanda: Securely Introducing Mobile Devices (Magically)

Wanda concept in actionTHaW PhD student, Tim Pierson, along with the Wanda team have built a ‘magic wand’ that simplifies the integration of new medical devices into existing wireless networks. A detailed description of their work is found below in the abstract to their recently accepted IEEE INFOCOM paper.

Abstract: Nearly every setting is increasingly populated with wireless and mobile devices – whether appliances in a home, medical devices in a health clinic, sensors in an industrial setting, or devices in an office or school. There are three fundamental operations when bringing a new device into any of these settings: (1) to configure the device to join the wireless local-area network, (2) to partner the device with other nearby devices so they can work together, and (3) to configure the device so it connects to the relevant individual or organizational account in the cloud. The challenge is to accomplish all three goals simply, securely, and consistent with user intent. We present a novel approach we call Wanda – a `magic wand’ that accomplishes all three of the above goals – and evaluate a prototype implementation.

A prepublication version is available here.

mAuditor: A mobile Auditing Framework for mHealth Applications

Enormous numbers of mobile health applications (mHealth apps) developed recently on mobile devices (e.g. smart-phones, tablets, etc.) have enabled health status (e.g. sleep quality, heart rate, etc.) monitoring that is readily accessible to average mobile device users. Typically, such mHealth apps involve active usage of mobile device resources, such as on-board sensors, network bandwidth, etc. The rapid increase of these applications prompted the US FDA agency to put in place regulations on mHealth app risk assessment. But these existing and upcoming regulations have not yet been accompanied by a mobile auditing framework, which provides real-time monitoring of mHealth apps’ resource usage and triggers alerts to users if abnormal resource usage patterns are detected.

Haiming mAuditor graphic

In this project, we develop a mobile auditing framework shown in the figure to the left (mAuditor Framework). The mAuditor runs as a separate process along with mHealth apps and other general purpose apps (e.g. Facebook, Gmail, etc.). The mAuditor consists of the profiler and the analyzer. The profiler collects the system trace and parse the trace if needed. The parsed trace is utilized by the analyzer, which analyzes the resource usage patterns and compare them with predefined configurations. mAuditor with its low-overhead and non-obtrusive design, monitors mHealth apps’ resource usage patterns in real-time and triggers alerts to users if abnormal resource usage patterns are detected.

This work is being spearheaded by Haiming Jin and supported by his colleagues at UIUC, Ting-yu Wang and Klara Nahrstedt.



Security for Mobile and Cloud Frontiers in Healthcare

In an article in the most recent issue of the Communications of the ACM, the authors (Kotz, Fu, Gunter and Rubin) state:

The benefits of healthcare IT will be elusive if its security challenges are not adequately addressed. Security remains one of the most important concerns in a recent survey of the health and mHealth sectors, and research has illustrated the risks incurred by cyber-attacks on medical devices such as pace-makers. More than two-thirds (69%) of respondents say their organization’s IT security does not meet expectations for FDA-approved medical devices.

Privacy protection is also critical for healthcare IT; although this column focuses on security, it should be noted that many security breaches lead to disclosure of personal information and thus an impact on patient privacy.

The authors identify three critical research challenges:

  • Usable authentication tools
  • Trustworthy control of medical devices
  • Trust through accountability

For more information on the challenges facing securing healthcare IT please see Communications of the ACM.

THaW Researchers Highlight Emerging Issues Related to Mobility and Security in Healthcare

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Practices in Healthcare– A.J. Burns and M. Eric Johnson, Vanderbilt University

Despite the many impressive technology-enabled advances in modern medicine over the past several decades, concerns over costs, reliability, and security have hindered the adoption of IT in the health sector. However, as in other industries, healthcare has seen dramatic increases in the use of personally-owned devices. In fact, 88.6 percent of those working in healthcare report using their smartphone for work. All the while, 54 percent of US organizations report that they’re unable to determine if off-site employees are using technology and informational resources in a way that addresses corporate and regulatory requirements. This lack of oversight is especially problematic for the health sector where research reveals that healthcare workers often fail to maintain basic security hygiene on their devices (e.g., 41 percent report having no password protection).

The trend toward mobile computing is radically transforming how individuals interact with IT. For example, in 2014, comScore reported that for the first time, more than half of all digital media in the US was consumed in a mobile app. In the health sector, enabled by low entry barriers and lax (often non-existent) regulation, the number of mobile health (mHealth) apps available to consumers now exceeds 100,000, with millions of total yearly downloads. Yet when it comes to these available apps, the industry provides little transparency about either the mHealth data’s security and privacy or the usage patterns among physicians and patients that have downloaded these apps. In a recent special issue on IT security in IEEE IT Professional, THaW researchers highlight emerging issues related to mobility and security in healthcare: BYOD and the mHealth application ecosystem.

Link to IEEE IT Professional publication (see pages 23-29).

What’s in Your Dongle and Bank Account? Mandatory and Discretionary Protection of Android External Resources

Soteris Demetriou, Xiaoyong Zhou, Muhammad Naveed, Yeonjoon Lee, Kan Yuan, XiaoFeng Wang, and Carl A Gunter

The pervasiveness of security-critical external re- sources (e.g accessories, online services) poses new challenges to Android security. In prior research we revealed that given the BLUETOOTH and BLUETOOTH_ADMIN permissions, a malicious app on an authorized phone gains unfettered access to any Bluetooth device (e.g., Blood Glucose meter, etc.). Here we further show that sensitive text messages from online banking services and social networks (account balance, password reset links, etc.) are completely exposed to any app with either the RECEIVE_SMS or the READ_SMS permission. Similar security risks are present in other channels (Internet, Audio and NFC) extensively used to connect the phone to assorted external devices or services. Fun- damentally, the current permission-based Discretionary Access Control (DAC) and SEAndroid-based Mandatory Access Control (MAC) are too coarse-grained to protect those resources: whoever gets the permission to use a channel is automatically allowed to access all resources attached to it.

To address this challenge, we present in this paper SEACAT, a new security system for fine-grained, flexible protection on external resources. SEACAT supports both MAC and DAC, and integrates their enforcement mechanisms across the Android middleware and the Linux kernel. It extends SEAndroid for specifying policies on external resources, and also hosts a DAC policy base. Both sets of policies are managed under the same policy engine and Access Vector Cache that support policy checks within the security hooks distributed across the framework and the Linux kernel layers, over different channels. This integrated security model was carefully designed to ensure that misconfig- ured DAC policies will not affect the enforcement of MAC policies, which manufacturers and system administrators can leverage to define their security rules. In the meantime, a policy management service is offered to the ordinary Android users for setting policies that protect the resources provided by the third party. This service translates simple user selections into SELinux-compatible policies in the background. Our implementation is capable of thwarting all known attacks on external resources at a negligible performance cost.

Link to NDSS paper

THaW paper at CIST (INFORMS)

THaW professor Eric Johnson (Vanderbilt) recently presented a new paper at the Conference on Information Systems and Technology (CIST), a division of INFORMS.

See the video abstract. A full version of the paper is under review at a journal.

Meaningful healthcare security: Does “Meaningful-use” attestation improve information security performance?
Juhee Kwon and M. Eric Johnson
Certification mechanisms are often employed to signal performance of difficult-to-observe management practices. In the healthcare sector, financial incentives linked to “meaningful-use” attestation have been a key policy initiative of the Obama administration to accelerate electronic health record (EHR) adoption while also focusing healthcare providers on protecting sensitive healthcare data. Given the rapid push for safe digitization of patient data, this study examines how hospital attestation influences the occurrence of subsequent data breaches and also how breach performance is associated with penalties from prior breaches. Using a propensity score matching technique combined with a difference-in-differences approach, we analyze a matched sample of 869 U.S. hospitals. We find that hospitals that attest to having reached Stage-1 meaningful-use standards observe reduced external breaches in the short term, but do not see continued improvement in the following year. On the other hand, attesting hospitals observe short-term increases in accidental internal breaches, but eventually see longer-term reductions. We do not find any link between malicious internal breaches and attestation. Further, we find that the interaction between meaningful-use attestation (carrot) and prior failure resulting in penalties (stick) enhances short-term reductions of accidental internal and external breaches. Our findings offer both theoretical and practical insights into the effective design of certification mechanisms and breach regulations.

THaW’s Professor Kevin Fu on Slashdot

Professor Kevin Fu Answers Your Questions About Medical Device Security

Almost a year ago you had a chance to ask professor Kevin Fu about medical device security. A number of events (including the collapse of his house) conspired to delay the answering of those questions. Professor Fu has finally found respite from calamity, coincidentally at a time when the FDA has issued guidance on the security of medical devices. Below you’ll find his answers to your old but not forgotten questions.

Fu: I apologize for the year-long delay, but my queue has rather overflowed after part of my house collapsed. See slide #11 for more information on the delay.

Medical device security is a challenging area because it covers a rather large set of disciplines including software engineering, clinical care, patient safety, electrical engineering, human factors, physiology, regulatory affairs, cryptography, etc. There are a lot of well meaning security engineers who have not yet mastered the culture and principles of health care and medicine, and similarly there are a lot of well meaning medical device manufacturers who have not yet mastered the culture and principles of information security and privacy. I started out as a gopher handing out authentication tokens for a paperless medical record system at a hospital in the early 1990s, but in the last decade have focused my attention on security of embedded devices with application to health and wellness.

I huddled with graduate students from my SPQR Lab at Michigan, and we wrote up the following responses to the great questions. We were not able to answer every question, but readers can find years worth of in-depth technical papers on and and

Link to the original slashdot posting here.

ZEBRA press

THaW’s article about Zero-Effort Bilateral Recurring Authentication (ZEBRA) triggered a lot of press coverage: such as Communications of the ACM (CACM)VICE Motherboard, Dartmouth NowGizmagThe Register UKPlanet Biometrics*, Computer Business Review*,  Fierce Health ITDaily Science NewsSenior Tech Insider, Motherboard, Homeland Security Newswire, and NFC World. They’re all intrigued by ZEBRA’s ability to continuously authenticate the user of a desktop terminal and to log them out if they leave or if someone else steps in to use the keyboard. Some(*) mistakenly believe our ZEBRA method uses biometrics; quite the contrary, ZEBRA is designed to be user-agnostic and thus requires no per-user training period. (ZEBRA correlates the bracelet wearer’s movements with the keyboard and mouse movements, not with a prior model of the wearer’s movements as do methods built on behavioral biometrics.)  ZEBRA could be combined with a biometric authentication of the wearer to the bracelet, and can be combined with other methods of initial authentication of wearer to system (such as username/password, or fingerprints) making it an extremely versatile tool that adds strength to existing approaches. The Dartmouth THaW team continues to refine ZEBRA. [Note: since the time this paper was published we have learned of a relevant trademark on the name “Zebra”. Thus, we have renamed our approach “BRACE” and will use that name in future publications.]

photo of Shimmer device on a wrist, wherein the hand is using a mouse and the other hand is using a keyboard

Our experiments used the Shimmer research device, though in principle it could work with any fitness band.