A magic wand protecting your home network

Dartmouth College Professor David Kotz demonstrates a commercial prototype of “Wanda” imparting information such as the network name and password of a WiFi access point onto a blood pressure monitor. Credit: Dartmouth College

Our home, inconspicuously, is becoming a real network with several devices connected. Think about your Internet gateway serving as access point your phones, the television(s), home desktop computer, laptops, tablets ...

Then add your back up system (like Apple time machine on an AirPort), the home security system the electronic scale, a few white goods, a smart watch, the blood pressure monitor... You get the idea.

 From time to time you bring home a new device and you go through the chore of connecting it to your home network. This involves the configuration of the device to access your home WiFi (introducing the SSID to access the network and the password to be authorised), the partnering of the device with other devices it has to work with (peering) and link the device to the Cloud.

Each of these operations involves the exchange of data and it comes with the risk of eavesdropping. Unlikely, yes, but as more and more sensitive devices are plugged in, particularly in the health care area, one should not underplay the risk.

This is where the innovation coming from Dartmouth College, Department of Computer Science, comes in.

They have invented Wanda, a magic wand that can be used to perform all operations required to join a new devices in your home network using vicinity communications to avoid eavesdropping.

Wanda needs to be plugged in into a USB port of your gateway. There it will intercept all data relevant to become part of the home environment. When you come home with a new device you just unplug Wanda from its USB cradle and you point its tip to the new device. This will transfer all required data to the device to be connected and it will harvest the device identification data to make it recognised by the home network and its connected resources. These data will be shared once Wand is plugged back to its USB port.

Wanda has been developed with the funds of NSF's Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program that Dartmouth College is using in its own research in Trustworthy Health and Wellness.

To me the really interesting part is the simplification of the process. I would love to be able to touch with a magic wand a new device I am bringing home and magically having it connected, up and running. That would for sure avoid headache, hence no doubt it fits under a Health and Wellness program.

Additionally, what I find intriguing is that there is a risk, even at home, of being eavesdropped ... electronically. Considering that nowadays most of my bank transactions go through my home network security is becoming an important issue.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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