Securing Wearable Tech by Sending Data Through the Body

Wearables are rapidly increasing in popularity, and there is a good chance you’re wearing a smartwatch or Fitbit-style fitness tracker right now. As they become more and more common, it’s likely that we’ll end up wearing multiple devices at any given time. Those may even include medical devices like insulin pumps. Those device will need to communicate with each other, but modern wireless communication methods are vulnerable to hacking. That’s why an international team of researchers have developed a method for keeping that communication secure by sending it through your body.

Researchers have developed a way to take advantage of the human body’s existing electrical system to make the body “the medium of communication” for sensitive personal data. (📷: Adam Glanzman/Northeastern)

This technique is very similar to one we recently featured here on the Hackster blog, but was developed independently by researchers from Northeastern University, the Draper Laboratory in Massachusetts, and Brazil’s Federal University of Paraná. The communication method they came up with was designed specifically to combat the hacking of wearables, and could potentially save lives. An insulin pump could, for example, be used to kill someone if it’s hacked to deliver too much insulin. On a less dramatic level, hackers could intercept wireless signals being sent between wearable devices to steal your data.

The team created a model of a human arm, wrist, and hand made of synthetic bone, muscle, and skin to test their technique for sending data through the body. (📷: Adam Glanzman/Northeastern)

That can all be prevented by simply avoiding the use of wireless communication. But, of course, we still need our devices to communicate with each other, and no one wants wires running all over their body. The solution is to use the body itself as a transmission medium. That is already an existing process called galvanic coupling, where weak electrical signals are sent harmlessly through the body. Those signals are, however, strong enough to carry data from a device on one part of your body to another. By sending that data through your body, it becomes secure — similar to an Ethernet network. A hacker would have to be physically touching you to intercept the data, which is unlikely to go unnoticed.

Securing Wearable Tech by Sending Data Through the Body was originally published in Hackster Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original article: Securing Wearable Tech by Sending Data Through the Body
Author: Cameron Coward