Soldier communicating via radio

DARPA puts out call to boost wireless security

Military members in remote areas rely on wireless devices not only to access the network, but often as a relay point for other devices. For this to work properly, the nodes in question have to accurately and securely share information about themselves.

This is like walking a tightrope: if too much information is passed, the network is not secure, and if too little is passed, the devices won’t interconnect properly.

To help work on this problem, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has started the Wireless Network Defense program to develop technology to improve the robustness of wireless networks without having to go back and develop entirely new radios devices or wave forms.

“Current security efforts focus on individual radios or nodes, rather than the network, so a single misconfigured or compromised radio could debilitate an entire network,” Wayne Phoel, DARPA program manager, said in a statement. “We need to change how we control wireless networks by developing a network-based solution for current and future systems that acknowledges there will be bad nodes and enables the network to operate around them.”

A key objective of the program is to develop protocols that determine trustworthiness of neighboring wireless nodes and allow the network to automatically adapt to problems. So if an unsecured, faulty or otherwise suspicious node shows up (or one of the existing nodes becomes unsecure), the rest of the neighborhood will all know about it and be able to take appropriate action.

Part of the inspiration for the program comes from the indicators that credit card companies use to flag potential misuse of someone’s card or from the seller ratings used on social sites where people buy goods from one other, Phoel said.

As reported in the DOD’s “Armed With Science” blog, the initiative could only end up improving both productivity and chance of mission success as use of military wireless systems by military personnel increases.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Apr 15, 2013 at 11:18 AM0 comments


Pile of old mobile phones

Used phones are worth money -- and that can be a problem

The Federal Communications Commission’s planned national database of stolen mobile phones can’t get here soon enough, according to police who say the burgeoning market for used phones has increased thefts.

The high turnover of mobile devices, as new models arrive constantly, has created a market for used phones, allowing users to get a little cash when they upgrade. There are even ATM-like kiosks that will pay out cash for an old phone.

But some police officials worry that this level of access for selling used phones may encourage more thefts. That is certainly the viewpoint of the District of Columbia police,  which says that about 40 percent of all robberies in the city involve some kind of mobile device, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The D.C. police has singled out one vendor in particular, ecoATM, which has about 340 kiosks all over the country, including seven in the greater D.C. metropolitan area.  Officials of ecoATM dispute claims that the company is a resource for cell phone thieves, citing the security measured used by the kiosks. When someone uses a kiosk to sell a phone, cameras take his photo from several angles. Sellers must place a government-issued ID up to another camera, and they even have to have their thumbprint scanned. The phone is connected to the kiosk through its data port, and its unique ID is run against police databases of stolen phones. The ecoATM website details the steps it takes to reduce the likelihood of stolen phones being sold through its kiosks.  Because of these precautions, the company claims that fewer than one out of every 4,000 devices end up reported as stolen.

Still, stolen phones have turned up in the machines, police say. Part of the reason that these automated sales points don’t catch more stolen phones is because the databases they check are often not up-to-date or comprehensive.

A national database of stolen phones, due later this year, could go a long way toward solving the problem. The Federal Communications Commission, law enforcement organizations and the wireless industry last year launched the database effort as part of the PROTECT initiative. Several major wireless carries, including AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint/Nextel, have implemented their databases of stolen phones, with the unified database scheduled to go online by Nov. 30.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Apr 08, 2013 at 9:39 AM0 comments


Martin Cooper the inventor of the cell phone with DynaTAC prototype from 1973

The call heard 'round the world

Forty years ago this week, Martin Cooper called a number and changed everything.

Cooper, who was the head of the communications system division at Motorola at the time, made the first handheld cellular phone call in public on April 3, 1973.

He was in front of the New York Hilton on Sixth Avenue in New York City, on his way to a press conference. The call was to Dr. Joel Engel, the head of Bell Labs (Motorola’s chief competitor) and was essentially to let him know that Cooper was in fact making the call from a portable phone.

In an interview with About.com in 2003, Cooper said the call signified a shift in communications technology toward the person and away from the place. As Cooper put it, "People want to talk to other people — not a house, or an office, or a car. Given a choice, people will demand the freedom to communicate wherever they are, unfettered by the infamous copper wire. It is that freedom we sought to vividly demonstrate in 1973."

After this landmark call, it took a month short of 10 years for the first cellular network to become available to the U.S. public. Since then, there have been vast improvements in wireless capabilities, ever-shrinking handsets that then grew into smart phones (Cooper’s DynaTAC phone weighed about 2 pounds, 7 ounces as was dubbed the “brick”) and huge increases in bandwidth over cellular networks.

Public-sector agencies, like everyone else, are moving to mobile computing, developing mobile apps, instituting mobile strategies, and using mobile devices to build sensor networks.

And it won’t end any time soon. Cisco recently released an update of its five-year Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast, predicting that, by 2017, global data traffic will reach 11.2 exabytes per month (an exabyte is one billion gigabytes), which is a 13-fold increase in just five years.

All that from one single phone call.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Apr 03, 2013 at 9:39 AM1 comments