Personal Networks of the Future: The MAGNET project

By asekine at 4:00 pm on January 30, 2009 | 1 Comment

With the improvement of wireless technologies and a decrease in their cost, more and more devices come with network connectivity built in. From Wifi to Bluetooth to 3G, more and more devices are becoming wireless capable. A recent article from ScienceDaily (continued here and here) discusses how many of our personal belongings will be interacting wirelessly, and the technologies being developed in order to cope with such a massive increase. There is a predicted 7 trillion devices for 7 billion people by 2017 that will be connected on personal networks. Given many of the problems of wireless security that we are faced with today, the chance for potential problems is a serious concern.

The article discusses the MAGNET, a European research project aimed at seamlessly managing personal networks (PN). The goal is to make maintaining one’s PN easy and convenient to use, while trying to still be secure. It is hoped that bringing new devices into the network should be done in a user friendly way, to avoid many of the connection nuances that annoy consumers today.

Assets and Security Goals

  • If everyone’s lives are as fully connected as conjectured, then all forms of privacy and personal security could be at stake. The PN is used to keep your entire life connected, whether it be to keep personal finances and work in order, or to monitor heart rate and other bodily functions.
  • Maintaining availability and reliability of electronic devices. Devices could stop functioning properly if dependencies are built upon the functionality of the PN being intact

Potential Adversaries and Threats

  • Adversaries outside the personal network If so many devices are communicating wirelessly, the amount of traffic in the air at once is potentially staggering. Any adversaries who wish to learn about an individual could monitor this communication and learn about the user.
  • Adversaries within the personal network. If an adversary were able to gain access to a device within the PN, it may be possible to gain access to other devices in a network.
  • Advertisers/Marketers It may be possible for a manufacturer to construct a device which monitors a user’s PN to learn about their habits. This information gathering could be used to make very targeted ads depending on the devices in their PN and the communications they make.
  • Device manufacturers Device manufacturers could be adversaries themselves, and embed malicious behavior in their devices. Maybe one manufacturer’s device could attack a competitor’s device on the same network.

Potential Weaknesses

  • Professor Liljana Gavrilovska, Technical Manager of the MAGNET Beyond project, stated that, “We have a user-centric approach with the overall objective to design, develop, demonstrate and validate the concept of a flexible PN that supports resource-efficient, robust, ubiquitous personal services in a secure, heterogeneous networking environment for mobile users.” By maintaining a user-centric approach it’s possibly that many assumptions have to be made about the types of devices and the accessprivileges given on a PN. Specific customization of individual devices on a PN may be difficult given how transparent this process is trying to be made to the user
  • Trust between devices could be a weakness in a network. Enforcement and access rights that devices have within the network would have to be specified to ensure devices can’t take actions that aren’t necessary for their function.

Potential Defenses

  • Ensure that all users are aware of the risks associated with this technology before using it. It’s apparent even today that many users aren’t concerned with security, given how many home networks are left vulnerable and exposed.
  • Enforce a kind of standards policy on manufacturers to ensure that the devices they produce conform to security standards, and do not exhibit any undesired behavior that is not related to their dedicated tasks.

Given the recent trends and developments in personal devices, it’s inevitable that our devices will be communicating on a massive scale. The MAGNET project is responding to the need for a well defined standard for these technologies to cooperate. There is a lot at stake, and adversaries have every reason to target user’s PNs for personal gain. Efforts are being made to ensure that this technology is safe and secure for users to depend on, but these measures should be scrutinized in order to ensure personal privacy and safety.

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1 Comment

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    Comment by Evil Rocks

    January 31, 2009 @ 11:46 am

    If everyone’s lives are as fully connected as conjectured, then all forms of privacy and personal security could be at stake.

    Homeboy, the users lost this battle a long time ago.

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