Improving the security of wireless devices with quantum physics

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From access cards and key fobs to Bluetooth speakers, secure communication between wireless devices is critical to maintaining privacy and preventing theft.

Unfortunately, these tools are not foolproof, and information on how to hack, clone, and bypass these systems is becoming easier to find.

A new approach inspired by quantum physics

Electrical engineers at the University of Illinois Chicago, supported by the US National Science Foundation, have been investigating ways to create safer devices. In a paper published in Nature Communications, researchers report a quantum-inspired method to improve wireless device identification and secure device-to-device communication. It uses a unique, random fingerprint to create a hardware encryption system that is virtually unbreakable, the researchers said.

The engineers, led by Pai-Yen Chen, used a theory of quantum physics in mathematical experiments to identify a “exceptional divergent point”. Quantum physics describes systems for which precise measurement is difficult or impossible; a quantum state describes a parameter space or a range of possible measurements. Within these states there are exceptional points where the uncertainty of the system is maximum. Chen and his colleagues devised a mathematical approach to identify these unique points in a radio frequency identification system, the technology used by access cards, key fobs and other devices that unlock or communicate with nearby sensors.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) security

In traditional radio frequency identification, or RFID, systems, encrypted keys are stored inside memory chips, which are limited in size and vulnerable to attack. Chen’s group created new RFID tagging and blocking devices that use the unique dot algorithm to create a secure signal. Since each piece of hardware is slightly different due to small variations during the manufacturing process, each RFID device produces its own unique fingerprint using the maximized uncertainty at the exceptional point.

The uniqueness of each device and its security

Like everyone’s voice, which is heard through analog sound waves, the key cryptographic structure makes each device’s signal unique, Chen said. This uniqueness strengthens the security of the system, since it is difficult for attackers to identify patterns or clone devices. In addition, Chen noted that the technology is low-cost and versatile, making it suitable for products such as access cards and near-field communication devices that are mass-produced and more vulnerable to attack.

The potential of technology in the security of wireless devices

“This research shows the potential of using RF and analog technologies to significantly improve the security of wireless devices”said Jenshan Lin, program director in NSF’s Engineering Directorate.

The application of quantum physics in wireless communication security opens up new possibilities to protect privacy and prevent the theft of sensitive information on wireless devices, laying the foundation for more secure and reliable wireless technology.

As new solutions inspired by quantum physics are developed, we can expect the emergence of new, stronger protection techniques that ensure the confidentiality of our communications and safeguard our personal data.

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Brian Adam
Professional Blogger, V logger, traveler and explorer of new horizons.