DARPA: Monitoring heat, electromagnetic and sound outputs could assess safety of IoT devices

IoT devices are too weak to defend themselves so something else needs to stick up for them, agency says

DARPA - the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - is looking for a platform that can tell whether Internet of Things devices have been hijacked based on fluctuations in the heat, electromagnetic waves and sound they put out as well as the power they use.

The agency wants technology that can decipher these analog waves and reveal what IoT devices are up to in their digital realms, according to a DARPA announcement seeking research proposals under the name “Leveraging the Analog Domain for Security (LADS)”.

The LADS program would separate security monitoring from the device itself so if it is compromised, the monitoring platform can’t be affected.

The ambitious goal of the four-year LADS program is to come up with a monitor that can read specifically what instructions and functions are being executed or what part of memory is being accessed simply by deciphering the analog byproduct of the digital activity.

This is similar to side-channel attacks that are used to help break encryption devices but turned around to help detect attacks instead.

This type of security device has already been developed in a rudimentary form, but DARPA is hoping for a quantum leap in its effectiveness.

Under the guidelines, the monitor itself could have its own power supply or could be an ASIC or FPGA tied to the power bus on the IoT motherboard or be connected via a USB port that draws power only.

Since IoT devices typically have limited storage, memory and processor speed, they are too puny to support endpoint security the way servers and laptops can, DARPA says.

The agency wants researchers to figure out what analog emanations are useful to detect specific details about the state of the device, such as whether the firmware is uncompromised, if unauthorized code is executing and whether configuration settings have been modified. It seeks a tool that can detect anomalous behavior that might indicate attacks.

Researchers would also be asked to figure out how such monitoring devices would be affected by their distance from the IoT device being monitored and whether they can monitor specific devices in an environment that includes ambient electromagnetic noise from nearby similar devices. DARPA is hoping for a monitoring device that can be deployed and then keep an eye on multiple IoT devices, which would be more cost-effective than needing a dedicated monitor for each IoT device.

DARPA wants the researchers to consider software to run on the devices being monitored that would shape the emanations to make them easier to read or make them readable from greater distances. Similarly, it wants them to explore whether such software changes could minimize the amount of data attackers could glean from monitoring the emanations.

The program calls for working prototypes that can act as the basis for shifting security off IoT devices themselves, which is a broad goal of vendors who are concerned about IoT security. They recognize that these devices are generally inexpensive, which means they don’t have a lot of headroom for adding security.

It also means the type of functions they perform and data they transfer is limited and predictable, making it more likely that patterns can be identified that indicate a normal baseline. Deviations from the baseline could warrant investigation, and the more specifically monitors can label activity, the greater the accuracy of the security analysis.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.


More about AdvancedDefense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Tim Greene

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place