Your Wi-Fi may be revealing more than you think
Wi-Fi signals can identify you through walls and even track your movements
Few people would disagree that Wi-Fi has become an indispensable part of modern-day life in our homes and offices. But as recent research from the University of Chicago and University of California, Santa Barbara has revealed, it can do a great deal more than simply stream data to and from our digital devices. Wi-Fi signals change slightly when they encounter solid objects – and this includes human beings. Tracking these changes through an artificial intelligence algorithm can give detailed information about the shape, behaviour and movement of people in a room with a standard household router, even through solid walls.
Identified, in a heartbeat
The new technology uses Wi-Fi signals to measure a person as they pass by. Wi-Fi signals do not pass through people, so they can be used to capture a model of an individual and track not only where they are walking, but how they move. The information regarding a person's gait can act as a form of unique identifier and can be used to identify individuals who have also appeared in footage captured by a camera. In fact, technology even exists that can use Wi-Fi to count the number of people in a room and detect a person’s heartbeat - and hence their physical and emotional state.
There are certainly a number of benign and beneficial applications to this technology. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have developed a device called WiTrack which can routinely and accurately track the movements of an elderly person living alone and detect if they have fallen down. This avoids the need to install cameras in every room, because Wi-Fi signals can travel through walls and still provide reliable information. The technology can even trace hand gestures in the air and may have smart home applications for consumers, helping people run their houses with greater efficiency and safety.
The Wi-Fi technology might also help in criminal cases. Let’s say a person suspected of committing a robbery has been caught on camera but cannot clearly be identified. This technology could be used to match their movements and help to identify the alleged criminal.
However, these new developments in Wi-Fi tracking also raise a number of potential security concerns. For example, the worry is that by operating relatively inexpensive technology, external attackers could use ambient Wi-Fi signals as motion detectors, and monitor activity inside a building without emitting any signal or being detected themselves. In other words, anywhere there is Wi-Fi, it is possible that you might be identified and your movements could be tracked. Fortunately, researchers are currently designing blockers that will only allow a person to be tracked by their own device.
If privacy, physical security and data protection matter to you, or if you are alarmed by any of the issues raised in this article, talk to the team at High Performance Networks. We have the knowledge and experience to address your concerns quickly, calmly and effectively. So call me, Paul Hagan, or any member of the HPN team on 028 9053 8411. We look forward to talking to you.