Novel transmitter protects wireless data from hackers

Novel transmitter protects wireless data from hackers

Data protectionNovel transmitter protects wireless data from hackers


By Rob Matheson


Published 13 June 2018

Today, more than eight billion devices are connected around the world, forming an “internet of things” that includes medical devices, wearables, vehicles, and smart household and city technologies. By 2020, experts estimate that number will rise to more than twenty billion devices, all uploading and sharing data online. But those devices are vulnerable to hacker attacks that locate, intercept, and overwrite the data, jamming signals and generally wreaking havoc. A novel device uses ultrafast “frequency hopping” and data encryption to protect signals from being intercepted and jammed.



Today, more than eight billion devices are connected around the world, forming an “internet of things” that includes medical devices, wearables, vehicles, and smart household and city technologies. By 2020, experts estimate that number will rise to more than twenty billion devices, all uploading and sharing data online.


But those devices are vulnerable to hacker attacks that locate, intercept, and overwrite the data, jamming signals and generally wreaking havoc. One method to protect the data is called “frequency hopping,” which sends each data packet, containing thousands of individual bits, on a random, unique radio frequency (RF) channel, so hackers can’t pin down any given packet. Hopping large packets, however, is just slow enough that hackers can still pull off an attack.


Now MIT researchers have developed a novel transmitter that frequency hops each individual 1 or 0 bit of a data packet, every microsecond, which is fast enough to thwart even the quickest hackers.


The transmitter leverages frequency-agile devices called bulk acoustic wave (BAW) resonators and rapidly switches between a wide range of RF channels, sending information for a data bit with each hop. In addition, the researchers incorporated a channel generator that, each microsecond, selects the random channel to send each bit. On top of that, the researchers developed a wireless protocol — different from the protocol used today — to support the ultrafast frequency hopping.


“With the current existing [transmitter] architecture, you wouldn’t be able to hop data bits at that speed with low power,” says Rabia Tugce Yazicigil, a postdoc in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and first author on a paper describing the transmitter, which is being presented at the IEEE Radio Frequency Integrated Circuits Symposium. “By developing this protocol and radio frequency architecture together, we offer physical-layer security for connectivity of everything.” Initially, this could mean securing smart meters that read home utilities, control heating, or monitor the grid.


“More seriously, perhaps, the transmitter could help secure medical devices, such as insulin pumps and pacemakers, that could be attacked if a hacker wants to harm someone,” Yazicigil says. “When people start corrupting the messages [of these devices] it starts affecting people’s lives.”