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Internet-of-Things Security Architecture Designed

Radio waves graphic

(ClkerFreeVectorImages, Pixabay)

19 June 2015. Engineering students at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany are developing a security architecture to protect wireless communications among small household devices connected in what’s known as the Internet-of-Things. The team from the university’s Horst Görtz Institute that specializes in IT security is also receiving funds from a German government program to start a spin-off company for taking its technology to market.

The researchers led by doctoral student Christian Zenger are building an infrastructure for protecting the communications sent among sensors and devices attached to household items such as appliances, burglar alarms, smoke detectors, baby monitors, and home heating and cooling systems, as well as in commercial and industrial settings. The more data are collected and wirelessly exchanged, however, the greater the risks of compromise; as Zenger notes in a university statement, “Because wireless communication doesn’t stop at the front door.”

Zenger and colleagues — all current and former students at Ruhr-Universität Bochum — designed the architecture they call Physec for small, low-power, independent devices connected in a network. The researchers presented test results of Physec with a prototype system in September 2014 at the International Workshop on Secure Internet of Things meeting in Wroclaw, Poland.

Their design makes use of random number generation, and grants two devices on the network shared, synchronized access to random numbers for deriving cryptographic keys. Those cryptographic keys, for scrambling and unscrambling the transmissions, apply only to the two devices sharing that particular random number, not the network as a whole. Thus anyone intercepting a transmission between the two devices and breaking the key would not be able to use that key to penetrate the entire network.

The Bochum team is packaging the architecture into a smartphone app for adding devices to a Physec-enabled network. The researchers say users will be able to hold their smartphones a few centimeters from a device on the network, and the app will make it possible for the device to exchange a unique cryptographic key.

Zenger and colleagues are taking steps to commercialize Physec, with help from the German government. The team says it plans to file a patent for the technology. In addition, Germany’s Ministry of Economics and Energy is providing a grant of €650,000 ($US 735,000) for the researchers to start a new company for developing a commercial version. The program provides funds for university research groups to prove the technical feasibility of their discoveries for up to 18 months in pre-start-up stages.

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