Realizing Visual and Acoustic Near Field Communication Systems for Smartphones: Performance Optimization and Security Assurance

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation under grant CNS 1423102

 

 

Abstract

Synopsis
Personnel

Publications

Education Outcomes and Broad Impacts

 

 

Abstract

 

Near-Field Communication (NFC) is an emerging wireless technology that expects to revolutionize a range of mobile applications. However, the widespread use of NFC is hindered by the fact that only a limited number of platforms have built-in NFC support. Moreover, while NFC's short communication range offers some degree of physical protection, recent findings have revealed NFC's vulnerability to malicious eavesdropping. 

 

This project develops alternative NFC technologies that are secure and compatible with legacy mobile devices and existing infrastructure (e.g., POS terminals). The key novelty of this approach is to leverage visible light and acoustic channels to realize NFC systems with robust performance and security assurance. Due to the high directionality of narrow light beams, visible light can enable secure and interference-free wireless links. Similarly, acoustic signal can be modulated for NFC communication in close proximity. This approach offers several key advantages over the existing NFC technology. Both visual and acoustic communication channels can be implemented using prevalent components such as LCD displays, microphones, and speakers, which lead to purely software-based solutions that can easily retrofit existing infrastructure with NFC functionality. Second, in contrast to RF channels, the direction and distance of screen-camera link are controllable, preserving the communication privacy and security. Similarly, integrated with physical self-jamming techniques, the acoustic link can achieve information-theoretic security without the need for pre-shared secrets.

 

In this project, a new form of Visible Light Communication (VLC) is employed to implement NFC, where 2D barcodes are streamed between LCD display and camera. A new barcode design and several techniques are used to optimize the throughput of screen-camera link, which include code block adaptation and re-ordering to mitigate the impact of image blur in mobile environments, and lightweight image processing algorithms for real-time decoding of barcode stream. A systematic security study is conducted on barcode-based communication based on geometric analysis and a new acoustics-based NFC system is developed for smartphones without the need of a priori knowledge of security secrets. The emerging friendly jamming techniques are utilized for establishing an information-theoretically secure communication channel for NFC. This project also explores advanced coding techniques, high-level modulation schemes and other physical layer techniques for further improving the data transmission rates and ensuring confidentiality guarantee.

 

 

Synopsis

 

Near-Field Communication (NFC) is an emerging wireless technology designed for low-power communication between devices within close proximity (e.g., a few centimeters). The close communication range, as a result of fast decaying magnetic induction between the antennas of NFC transmitter and receiver, is a distinctive trait of NFC and brings several key advantages. First, due to the physical collocation of transmitter/receiver, NFC does not require cumbersome network configuration and can be used an out-of-band channels for secure device pairing without resorting to a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) or trusted third parties. Second, it offers a natural, physical protection against various attacks, particularly malicious eavesdropping. Due to these silent features, NFC is expected to revolutionize a range of mobile applications, from contactless payment and ticketing access control, to peripheral pairing smart devices. It is estimated that the NFC market will grow to 34 billion by 2016.

 

However, the widespread use of NFC is hindered by the fact that only a limited number of smartphone/tablet platforms have built-in NFC chipsets. Moreover, in order to support NFC on the existing industrial infrastructure like POS terminals, it typically requires costly hardware and software upgrades, due to the need of additional NFC chipsets and radio stack. As of 2012, it is estimated that only 3-5% and 12% the smartphones worldwide and in the U.S. have NFC support. Moreover, while NFC does not incorporate any security at the physical or MAC layers by assuming that the extremely short range of communication in itself has offered a degree of physical protection, several recent findings have brought the security of NFC into question. The eavesdropping distance of NFC is empirically measured to be 30 cm. Our recent experimental study shows that, with a specially designed portable NFC sniffer, it is possible to eavesdrop NFC transmissions from up to 240 cm away, which is at least an order of magnitude further than the intended NFC communication distance. These results have seriously challenged the general perception that NFC is immune to eavesdropping.  Recently, NFC forum proposed NFCIP-1 and NFC-SEC-01 specifications adopting utilize Diffie-Hellman key exchange protocol to enhance the data confidentiality. However, most NFC applications are designed for short-duration, rapid data exchange, and the lengthy key exchange process might dominate the entire NFC communication session, compromising the user experience.

 

This project proposes alternative NFC technologies that are secure and compatible with legacy devices (non-NFC smartphones or even feature phones) and existing infrastructure (e.g., POS terminals). The key novelty of our approach is to leverage visible light and acoustic channels to realize NFC systems with robust performance and security assurance. First, we will design novel visible light communication (VLC) techniques that can implement the functionality of NFC. Due to the high directionality of narrow light beams, VLC can enable secure and interference-free wireless links. In our approach, information can be encoded as a stream of images and played on smartphone/computer screens while the receiver uses camera to record and then decodes the video stream. Second, we propose to modulate acoustic signal for NFC communication. Leveraging the speaker and microphone, acoustic-based NFC systems can be purely realized by software and offer compatibility with various smart devices without additional hardware requirement.

 

Our approach offers several key advantages over the existing NFC technology. First, both visual and acoustic communication channels can be implemented using prevalent components such as LCD displays, microphones, and speakers that are already available on smartphones/tablets as well in retail stores, museums, etc.  For instance, by leveraging the abundance of LCD displays in retail stores, visual NFC can be implemented to provide patrons with smartphones coupon brochures and maps. Therefore, our approach will enable a purely software-based solution that can easily retrofit existing infrastructure with NFC functionality. Second, in contrast to RF technologies, the direction and distance of screen-camera link can be easily controlled, preserving the communication privacy and security. Similarly, integrated with physical layer self-jamming techniques, the acoustic link can achieve information-theoretic security without the need for any pre-shared secrets.

 

In this proposal, we propose to design secure, robust and high-rate NFC systems for off-the-shelf devices such as smartphones and POS terminals using visible light and acoustic channels. To this end, we will address several key challenges, including limited compute resources on smartphones, significant ambient light and acoustic noise, and the susceptibility of eavesdropping of visual and acoustic communication channels. Our approach optimizes the communication performance and achieves the security assurance of visual and acoustic NFC by integrating novel technologies from different domains, including acoustics-based communication, adaptive self-jamming, automatic identification and data capture, barcode design, lightweight image processing, and cryptography etc. Our research tasks are outlined below:

 

Robust and Dependable Barcode-based NFC. The existing VLC approaches require complex signal processing techniques and thus not suitable smartphones due to high computation overheads. To address this challenge, we propose a new form of VLC to implement NFC, where 2D barcodes are streamed between LCD display and camera. We propose a new 2D color barcode design that is particularly optimized for real-time streaming between small-size screens and low-speed cameras of smartphones. We propose several novel techniques to optimize the throughput of screen-camera link between two smartphones, which include code block adaptation and re-ordering to mitigate the impact of image blur in mobile environments, and lightweight image processing algorithms for real-time decoding of barcode stream. We further plan to conduct a systematic security study of barcode-based communication system and design physical layer security enhancement mechanisms. We will also investigate full duplex, energy-efficient communication techniques for barcode streaming NFC systems.

 

Dependable and Secure Acoustics-based NFC. We propose to investigate and design acoustics-based NFC system for smartphones. The proposed design aims at providing a software-based solution to secure smartphone communication without a priori knowledge of secrets. We further propose to utilize the emerging friendly jamming technique from radio communication for establishing an information-theoretically secure communication channel. We also plan to explore advanced coding techniques, high-level modulation schemes and other physical layer techniques for further improving the data transmission rates and investigate other security-enhanced techniques for providing stronger confidentiality guarantee.

 

System Prototyping and Real-world Evaluation. Prototyping and testing under real-world conditions are necessary and important for evaluating the effectiveness of the proposed NFC systems. We will implement the proposed designs on off-the-shelf smartphones and evaluate both the performance and security of the communication performance. Specifically, for both acoustic and light-based systems, we will implement on Android and iOS smartphone platforms and validate their performance through extensive experiments under a range of settings on system parameters and environmental factors, providing a complete performance characterization of the software, hardware and environment on the off-the-shelf devices.

 

 

 

Personnel

 

Michigan State University

 

Guoliang Xing (Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering)

Jun Huang (Postdoc)

Ruogu Zhou (Postdoc)

Tian Hao (Postdoc)

Chongguang Bi (Ph.D candidate)

Deliang Yang (Ph.D candidate)

 

University at Buffalo, State University of New York

 

Kui Ren (Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering)

Si Chen (Ph.D candidate)

Muyuan Li (Ph.D candidate)

Sixu Piao (Ph.D candidate)

Zhan Qin (Ph.D candidate)

 

 

Publications

 

1.     Wahhab Albazrqaoe, Jun Huang, Guoliang Xing, Practical Bluetooth Traffic Sniffing: Systems and Privacy Implications, The 14th International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services (MobiSys), 2016

2.     Moazzami, Mohammad-Mahdi and Phillips, Dennis E and Tan, Rui and Xing, Guoliang. ORBIT: a smartphone-based platform for data-intensive embedded sensing applications. Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Information Processing in Sensor Networks (IPSN), 2015.

3.     Niu, Jianwei and Gu, Fei and Zhou, Ruogu and Xing, Guoliang and Xiang, Wei. VINCE: Exploiting visible light sensing for smartphone-based NFC systems. IEEE Conference on Computer Communications (INFOCOM), 2015. 

4.     Xiang, Qiao and Zhang, Hongwei and Wang, Jianping and Xing, Guoliang and Lin, Shan and Liu, Xue. On Optimal Diversity in Network-Coding-Based Routing in Wireless Networks. IEEE Conference on Computer Communications (INFOCOM), 2015.

5.     Wang, Qian and Ren, Kui and Li, Guangcheng and Xia, Chenbo and Chen, Xiaobing and Wang, Zhibo and Zou, Qin, Walls Have Ears! Opportunistically Communicating Secret Messages Over the Wiretap Channel: from Theory to Practice, Proceedings of the 2015 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS'15), 2015.

6.     S. Chen and M. Li and K. Ren and X. Fu and C. Qiao, Rise of the Indoor Crowd: Reconstruction of Building Interior View via Mobile Crowdsourcing, Embedded Networked Sensor Systems (SenSys 2015), 2015 The 13th ACM Conference on, 2015.

7.     S. Chen and M. Li and K. Ren and C. QiaoCrowdMap: Accurate Reconstruction of Indoor Floor Plans from Crowdsourced Sensor-Rich Videos, Distributed Computing Systems (ICDCS), 2015 the 35th IEEE International Conference on, 2015.

8.     Wang, Qian and Zhou, Man and Ren, Kui and Lei, Tao and Li, Jikun and Wang, Zhibo, Rain Bar: Robust Application-Driven Visual Communication Using Color Barcodes, Distributed Computing Systems (ICDCS), 2015 IEEE 35th International Conference on,2015

9.     Ren, K. and Wang, Q. and Ma, D. and Jia, X., Securing emerging short range wireless communications: the state of the art, Wireless Communications, IEEE, 2014.

10.  B. Zhang and Q. Zhan and J. Wang and K. Ren and C. Wang and D. Ma, PriWhisper: Enabling Keyless Secure Acoustic Communication for Smartphones, IEEE Internet of Things, 2014.

11.  K. Ren and Q. Wang and D. Ma and X. Jia, Securing emerging short range wireless communications: the state of the art", Wireless Communications, IEEE, 2014.

12.  B. Zhang and K. Ren and G. Xing and X. Fu and C. Wang, SBVLC: Secure Barcode-based Visible Light Communication for Smartphones, Proc. of IEEE International Conference on Computer Communications (INFOCOM'14), 2014.

13.  Li, Muyuan and Zhu, Haojin and Gao, Zhaoyu and Chen, Si and Yu, Le and Hu, Shangqian and Ren, Kui, All Your Location Are Belong to Us: Breaking Mobile Social Networks for Automated User Location Tracking, Proceedings of the 15th ACM International Symposium on Mobile Ad Hoc Networking and Computing, 2014.

14.  Q. Yue and Z. Ling and X. Fu and B. Liu and K. Ren and W. Zhao, Blind Recognition of Touched Keys on Mobile Devices", Proceedings of the 2014 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS'14), 2014.

15.  Q. Sun and Q. Wang and K. Ren and X. Jia, Fair Pricing in the Sky: Truthful Frequency Allocation with Dynamic Spectrum Supply, Network Protocols (ICNP), 2014 IEEE 22nd International Conference on, 2014.

 

 

Education Outcomes and Broad Impacts

 

Part of the research results from this project has been integrated into the following graduate course:

Fall 2015 CSE824: Advanced Computer Networking and Communications