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]

THaW’s Eric Johnson on recent health system cyberattacks

Eric Johnson
Eric Johnson, PhD and dean of Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management

Cyberattacks targeting healthcare systems have been growing in prevalence and are wreaking more havoc with the healthcare industry’s increased dependence on electronic systems. Cyberattacks such as denial-of-service attacks, can have immediate impact on patient care by leaving medical staff without important patient records. The impacts don’t end there. With healthcare systems increasing their cybersecurity protocols in the aftermath of a cyberattack, patient information can be harder to access for those who should be accessing that information. Johnson’s research with co-author S.J. Choi, PhD, shows that at hospitals where security protocols slowed computer access by just a minute or so, people who came in with a heart attack were more likely to die. “When I talk to doctors about security, a lot of times they’re very negative,” Johnson said. “So they’re pretty far behind, and at this point, incredibly vulnerable.” It’s certainly not a stretch, Johnson says, to say that delays from a ransomware attack are likely to have more serious effects.

To read more about the recent cyberattacks on healthcare systems and coverage of THaW research on those topics, check out the THaW press page.

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. ©

Light Commands: Laser-Based Audio Injection Attacks on Voice-Controllable Systems

A new THaW paper was published at USENIX Security last week. It describes using a laser at a distance of 110 meters to stimulate audio sensors on smart speakers and thereby insert audio commands that are accepted as coming from a legitimate user. Techniques for dealing with this vulnerability are proposed.

Takeshi Sugawara, Benjamin Cyr, Sara Rampazzi, Daniel Genkin, and Kevin Fu. Light Commands: Laser-Based Audio Injection Attacks on Voice-Controllable Systems. In Proceedings of the USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security), pages 2631–2648, August 2020. USENIX Association.

Paper and video presentation at https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity20/presentation/sugawara 

Proximity detection with single-antenna IoT devices

ACM SIGMOBILE has posted a video of our presentation of the THaW paper Proximity detection with single-antenna IoT devices at MobiCom’19.  Abstract below the video.

Timothy J. Pierson, Travis Peters, Ronald Peterson, and David Kotz. Proximity Detection with Single-Antenna IoT Devices. In Proceedings of the ACM International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking (MobiCom), Article #21, October 2019. ACM Press. DOI 10.1145/3300061.3300120.

Abstract: Providing secure communications between wireless devices that encounter each other on an ad-hoc basis is a challenge that has not yet been fully addressed. In these cases, close physical proximity among devices that have never shared a secret key is sometimes used as a basis of trust; devices in close proximity are deemed trustworthy while more distant devices are viewed as potential adversaries. Because radio waves are invisible, however, a user may believe a wireless device is communicating with a nearby device when in fact the user’s device is communicating with a distant adversary. Researchers have previously proposed methods for multi-antenna devices to ascertain physical proximity with other devices, but devices with a single antenna, such as those commonly used in the Internet of Things, cannot take advantage of these techniques.

We present theoretical and practical evaluation of a method called SNAP – SiNgle Antenna Proximity – that allows a single-antenna Wi-Fi device to quickly determine proximity with another Wi-Fi device. Our proximity detection technique leverages the repeating nature Wi-Fi’s preamble and the behavior of a signal in a transmitting antenna’s near-field region to detect proximity with high probability; SNAP never falsely declares proximity at ranges longer than 14 cm.

SNAP: Proximity Detection with Single-Antenna IoT Devices

THaW graduate Tim Pierson will present SNAP, a method for proximity detection with single-antenna IoT devices at MobiCom in October.

SNAP - Likelihood of declaring proximityAbstract: Providing secure communications between wireless devices that encounter each other on an ad-hoc basis is a challenge that has not yet been fully addressed. In these cases, close physical proximity among devices that have never shared a secret key is sometimes used as a basis of trust; devices in close proximity are deemed trustworthy while more distant devices are viewed as potential adversaries. Because radio waves are invisible, however, a user may believe a wireless device is communicating with a nearby device when in fact the user’s device is communicating with a distant adversary. Researchers have previously proposed methods for multi-antenna devices to ascertain physical proximity with other devices, but devices with a single antenna, such as those commonly used in the Internet of Things, cannot take advantage of these techniques.

We present theoretical and practical evaluation of a method called SNAP — SiNgle Antenna Proximity — that allows a single-antenna Wi-Fi device to quickly determine proximity with another Wi-Fi device. Our proximity detection technique leverages the repeating nature Wi-Fi’s preamble and the behavior of a signal in a transmitting antenna’s near-field region to detect proximity with high probability; SNAP never falsely declares proximity at ranges longer than 14 cm.

In Proceedings of the ACM International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking (MobiCom), Article #1-15, October 2019. ACM Press. DOI 10.1145/3300061.3300120.

IEEE recognizes THaW researcher for establishing field of medical device security

Professor Kevin Fu’s 2008 paper called “Pacemakers and Implantable Cardiac Defibrillators: Software Radio Attacks and Zero-Power Defenses” has received the inaugural IEEE Security and Privacy “Test of Time” Award:  http://eecs.umich.edu/eecs/about/articles/2019/fu-test-of-time.html 

The paper was been recognized from a pool of submissions spanning 40 years with the inaugural IEEE Security and Privacy Test of Time Award, and its impact can be felt in every corner of the medical devices industry.

In the 11 years since the paper’s publication, Fu and others in his field have worked on solutions. Many of these have been technical, but most of the larger impact the paper has had has been in leadership.

“A lot of it is about community building and standards development,” Fu says, “which is sometimes a foreign concept in academia. But it’s really important to industry.”

Testimony in support of IoT Security

Professor Avi Rubin recently testified at a Maryland State Senate Finance Committee, hearing regarding a bill about IoT security [February 26, 2019].  Below are his remarks.

My name is Avi Rubin, and I am a full professor of Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University and Technical Director of our Information Security Institute. I am also the Founder and Chief Scientist of Harbor Labs, a Maryland CyberSecurity company that has developed an IoT Security Analysis product. I have been an active researcher in the area of Computer and Network Security since 1992. The primary focus of my research is Security for the Internet of Things (IoT Security). These are the types of connected devices that are addressed in SB 553.

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Securing the life-cycle of Smart Environments (video)

This one-hour talk by David Kotz was presented at ARM Research in Austin, TX at the end of January 2019.  The first half covers some recent THaW research about Wanda and SNAP and the second half lays out some security challenges in the Internet of Things.  Watch the video below.

Abstract: The homes, offices, and vehicles of tomorrow will be embedded with numerous “Smart Things,” networked with each other and with the Internet. Many of these Things interact with their environment, with other devices, and with human users – and yet most of their communications occur invisibly via wireless networks.  How can users express their intent about which devices should communicate – especially in situations when those devices have never encountered each other before?   We present our work exploring novel combinations of physical proximity and user interaction to ensure user intent in establishing and securing device interactions. 

What happens when an occupant moves out or transfers ownership of her Smart Environment?  How does an occupant identify and decommission all the Things in an environment before she moves out?  How does a new occupant discover, identify, validate, and configure all the Things in the environment he adopts?  When a person moves from smart home to smart office to smart hotel, how is a new environment vetted for safety and security, how are personal settings migrated, and how are they securely deleted on departure?  When the original vendor of a Thing (or the service behind it) disappears, how can that Thing (and its data, and its configuration) be transferred to a new service provider?  What interface can enable lay people to manage these complex challenges, and be assured of their privacy, security, and safety?   We present a list of key research questions to address these important challenges.