RF Fingerprinting for Industrial IoT Security

Page Heller Endpoint Security Inc.
College Station, TX
Winner of an HP Workstation.

As hostile nation-state actors turn to cyber-attacks, they are becoming more strategic. Strategic attacks are those in which an attacker, often a hostile nation-state actor, penetrates a network to gain control of a process, adjusting valves and moving set-points. These attacks are far costlier and more dangerous than blunt-force attacks that lead to a shutdown, and their costs could potentially be counted in human lives.

Some of the hardest to detect cyber-attacks are wireless, including man-in-the-middle attacks and rogue access points. To address this issue, Endpoint has introduced a Wireless Intrusion Detection System (WIDS) based on a new technology which sees a naturally occurring fingerprint in every wireless signal. It uses the polarization of a signal as a unique and stable identifier.

A discovery was made at the University of Notre Dame under the direction of researcher Dr. Thomas Pratt. Dr. Pratt discovered that polarization mode dispersion not only affects optical signals, but also RF signals and that such dispersion is a continuous function of frequency. This fact has been characterized in a laboratory environment under controlled conditions using 802.11n standard Wi-Fi signals. The results are astounding, in that each RF signal seems to have a completely unique fingerprint in its dispersion characteristics.

When plotted on a Poincaré sphere, the fingerprint of a broadband Wi-Fi signal takes the form of a continuous curve. The points on the curve correspond to various frequencies in the transmission, but are not related to the signal strength. The discovery that these functions take a continuous form is surprising and formed the basis of Endpoint’s WIDS that can be innovated to provide secure wireless transmission.

These fingerprints provide a natural authentication of fixed, wireless Endpoint devices. A WIDS can detect a wireless intruder and notify a network administrator in a factory or refinery. This breakthrough innovation provides authentication in the physical layer, not requiring any demodulation of signal and thus making it widely compatible with various protocols and devices.

With this technology, network administrators can actually prevent wireless cyber-attacks, not simply respond to them.

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Honorable Mentions

Smart Molecules Act as Computer Transistors

Stijn Mertens, Kang Cui, Kunal Mali, Dongqing Wu, Xinliang Feng, Klaus Müllen, Michael Walter, and Steven De Feyter,
Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

A single-molecule switch that can act like a transistor and store binary information such as the 1s and 0s used in classical computing. The molecule is around five square nanometers in size and could offer information densities of around 250 terabits per square inch, which is around 100 times the storage density of current hard drives. A key application is computer storage devices.

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Flushable Minibots for Leak Detection and Prediction

Mattias Bergstrom,
Internet of Everything Corp.,
Puerto De La Cruz, Spain

Mapping wastewater pipes and detecting leaks has been a huge problem as it is labor-intensive and costly. The Minibots collect data from vibration, light, and sound sensors. The bots can be flushed down any toilet and then collected at wastewater plants, where an AI is used to analyze the data to identify leaks and to even predict them.

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Biodegradable Environmental Sensors

Cherish Bauerreich,
University of Jamestown, Jamestown, ND

Based on RFID technology, these sensors can be deployed in an area where they will expand to full size and be able to measure certain environmental parameters. They can be placed under a thin layer of soil to measure the concentration of specific ions. As a farmer passes over the sensors, they give real-time in situ readings of the nutrient levels in the field, allowing the fertilizer levels to be adjusted immediately.

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Smartphone-Based COVID-19 Test

Jeong Yeol Yoon,
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

This method uses a smartphone microscope to analyze saliva samples and deliver results in about 10 minutes, at the accuracy of detecting a single virus copy. The test aims to combine the speed of existing nasal swab antigen tests with the high accuracy of nasal swab PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests.

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See the rest of this year's winners: