Case Study

Capturing IoT device ‘fingerprints’       

The Challenge

Companies and municipalities use Internet of Things devices to monitor remote areas for security and search-and-rescue purposes, and to monitor livestock, crops, water meters, smart grids, and bridges. Powered by small batteries, these devices use sensors to transmit data wirelessly across low-power, wide-area networks. However, current methods of authenticating these devices—and of ensuring they aren’t being mimicked by an adversary—use cryptography techniques that consume vast amounts of power and computational resources. Authentication must become more energy-efficient and scalable.

This quite new and exciting area of research has the potential to transform the process by which all IoT devices are developed.

Tommaso Melodia

William Lincoln Smith Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

The Partnership

As a solution, two electrical and computer engineering faculty members at Northeastern’s Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things, Tommaso Melodia, institute director, and Kaushik Chowdhury, associate director, are zeroing in on radio frequency fingerprinting. This strategy involves identifying a wireless device uniquely through hardware imperfections, which can be gleaned from the radio signals it transmits.

Melodia and Chowdhury have partnered with InterDigital, a Delaware-based mobile technology research and development company, to design algorithms that use AI and machine learning to differentiate between devices with greater accuracy, and at far larger scales. The researchers will test their algorithms on Interdigital’s LoRa (long range) devices, which can transmit signals over large rural areas using relatively little power. Their work is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research.

The Goal

With an assist from radio frequency fingerprinting, the researchers aim to design scalable, reliable, energy-efficient mechanisms for authenticating wireless devices. More broadly, Melodia says, the partnership with InterDigital will help inform standards for wireless device authentication across sectors, including defense, agriculture, and manufacturing.

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