Cell Phone Snoopers Beware of These Invention of the Year Finalists!

Wireless network technology has become increasingly popular and increasingly demanding of new forms of privacy protection. For users on cellular phones, concerns about snooping from attackers looking to obtain their temporary user IDs and location are not met by current protection methods.

A recent development by Tuan Ta, Ph.D. candidate in Electrical Engineering, and John S. Baras, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Lockheed Martin Chair in Systems Engineering, protects user IDs on cellphones from spreading to attackers. Ta and Baras’ signal processing technique allows cellular devices to determine whether a signal received is specifically intended for that device through the creation of a unique ID. This ID is embedded onto the received message while being transmitted at a lower power relative. Once received, it can only recognized by the user, preventing the attacker from learning the user’s location. Due to its use of low power for transmission, their technique secures privacy at low costs, while requiring minimal computation by user devices, saving battery life and transmission bandwidth, and adjusting easily to existing infrastructure. Its wide applicability to a variety of wireless networks makes it easily marketable, with the added bonus of more bandwidth for data transmission.

Professor Baras explains that the techniques they employed “utilize physical characteristics of devices and channels to strengthen and protect [location] privacy. We have shown one more time that allocating some of the security and privacy functionalities to the physical layer is critical and effective in a wireless embedded world!” Professor Baras also says he is “very excited and honored to be nominated. Interestingly enough one discovery leads to another. The method we used in this invention disclosure is related to another one several years back, quite unexpectedly.”

I am glad that my research has led to a positive impact on our everyday life.

Tuan Ta

His collaborator, Tuan Ta, shares in the excitement and says he is “very honoured to be nominated for the Invention of the Year Award. To receive this prestigious recognition and be considered among the top researchers and practitioners of the University is a great privilege. Most of all, I am glad that my research has led to a positive impact on our everyday life.” He asserts the innovative approach of their research through the use of the physical characteristics of devices. “This is a new and promising angle to approach the privacy concern as it does not rely on traditional cryptographic primitives,” says Ta.

In 2013, the Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) received 154 invention disclosures from the university renowned faculty. Ten of these inventions were selected as finalists for the Invention of the Year Awards, based on their impact on science, society, and market potential. Winners will be announced on April 29, 2014 at the Celebration of Innovation and Partnerships event.

About OTC: The University of Maryland created OTC in 1986 to provide expert guidance, support, and assistance in safeguarding intellectual property, encouraging research, facilitating technological transfer, and promoting collaborative research and development agreements with industrial sponsors. Visit their website for more information.

Published April 9, 2014