As more and more wearable, internet-connected devices hit the market, it’s clear that we’ll need to find better ways to protect our personal data.
Smart watches and pacemakers are devices designed to make life easier. And yet, all this wearable technology can be hacked. The devices send personal health information to your smartphone over the airways, so anyone with the know-how could scoop it up and steal it.
But now, researchers at Northeastern University have a better, more secure idea: Send data through your body.
Associate professor Kaushik Chowdhury worked with a team of researchers from the Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the FederalUniversity of Paraná in Brazil to develop a safe, hacker-proof method to transmit sensitive data.
“The truth is, no matter what I do when it comes to wireless devices, I’m radiating the signal through the air,” Chowdhury says.
“There is the danger that the signal can be jammed, or analyzed by someone else. Our method secures this sensitive information so it can’t be leaked.”
The method uses a technique called galvanic coupling to pack information into weak electrical currents and then inject those currents into the body.
In the case of a fitness watch, the signal travels from your watch through your arm, then your wrist, then your hand, and then it’s only through direct contact with a specialized receiver that the information can be sent to another device.
Chowdhury, and their colleagues have proposed to take advantage of the body’s electrical communications system to send new information. In order to come up with this technique, the researchers had to understand how electricity flows through the body.
Once they’d developed body maps and studied human electrical frequencies, the team tested all of this on a model of a human arm, wrist, and hand made of synthetic bone, muscle, and skin. It worked.