SAN FRANCISCO — In addition to the hundreds of presentations on information security that help to make the RSA Conference the largest cybersecurity event in the world, the event also sponsors university students whose proposals are accepted, to come to San Francisco to talk about their research at the RSAC Security Scholar Poster Exhibition.

This provides a great opportunity for attendees to talk to young researchers working at the cutting edge of our field, frequently on important issues that might otherwise not get any attention, or not get attention for a while.

Tien Vo-Huu is a PhD student in the Information Assurance program at Northeastern University’s College of Computer and Information Science
Tien Vo-Huu is a PhD student in the Information Assurance program at Northeastern University’s College of Computer and Information Science

Tien D. Vo-Huu (pictured above) has done research on how the quirks of individual Wi-Fi-enabled devices enable them to be uniquely identified just by analyzing characteristics of their radio signals. In the past, people have been tracked by using metadata transmitted by their smartphones, but in order to protect their privacy, vendors have changed the content of that metadata to make that much more difficult.

What Tien showed in his research,  is that without looking at any metadata, he could identify the make and model of the device with 95 per cent accuracy, and the individual device with 47 per cent accuracy. The problem is that it is much more difficult for manufacturers to obfuscate the radio signature of a device, which opens potential privacy concerns.

Tien’s research was done with a focus on the IEEE 802.11 standard as it’s becoming the primary medium for wireless Internet access. Even carriers are offloading traffic to Wi-Fi access points, Tien notes in his research, as a way to solve capacity issues. With its ubiquity, there is ample opportunity to collect samples, using Wi-Fi probes that can be constructed with off-the-shelf equipment.

 



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