Most people don't know how to set up and maintain a secure wireless network in their home. This can lead to compromised or stolen data or potentially allow hackers access to critical devices such as heart rate monitors or dialysis machines. Dartmouth College researchers have developed a digital 'magic wand' to improve home healthcare and to prevent hackers from stealing your personal data. The system, called 'Wanda', will be presented at the IEEE International Conference on Computer Communications in April 2016.
'Wanda' is part of a National Science Foundation-funded project led by Dartmouth called 'Trustworthy Health and Wellness' (THaW). THaW aims to protect patients and their confidentiality as medical records move from paper to electronic form and as health care increasingly moves out of doctors' offices and hospitals and into the home.
David Kotz, a professor of computer science at Dartmouth, said, "Wireless and mobile health technologies have great potential to improve quality and access to care, reduce costs and improve health. But these new technologies, whether in the form of software for smartphones or specialized devices to be worn, carried or applied as needed, also pose risks if they're not designed or configured with security and privacy in mind."
In the new Dartmouth-based project, doctoral student Tim Pierson developed 'Wanda', a small hardware device that has two antennas separated by one-half wavelength and uses radio strength as a communication channel. The clever solution makes it easy for people to add a new device to their home (or clinic) Wi-Fi network: they simply pull the wand from a USB port on the Wi-Fi access point, carry it close to the new device and point it at the device. Within a few seconds, the wand securely beams the secret Wi-Fi network information to the device. The same method can be used to transfer any information from the wand to the new device without anyone nearby capturing the secrets or tampering with the information.
Pierson said, "People love this new approach to connecting devices to Wi-Fi. Many of our volunteer testers remarked on the frustration they've encountered when configuring wireless devices at home and ask when they can take our wand home."
Kotz said, "We anticipate our `Wanda' technology being useful in a wide variety of applications, not just healthcare, and for a wide range of device management tasks, not just Wi-Fi network configuration."