System Bits: Aug. 23

Protecting IoT devices; hacker attack protection; lab-on-a-chip.

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Monitor side-channel signals for IoT device security
Thanks to a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant, Georgia Tech researchers are working to develop a new technique for wirelessly monitoring IoT devices for malicious software – without affecting the operation of the ubiquitous, and low-power equipment.

The team said the technique will rely on receiving and analyzing side-channel signals, electromagnetic emissions that are produced unintentionally by the electronic devices as they execute programs. These signals are produced by semiconductors, capacitors, power supplies and other components, and can currently be measured up to a half-meter away from operating IoT devices.

Monitoring of side-channel output from electronic devices could provide a means for detecting malware infection of Internet-of-Things devices. (Source: Georgia Tech)

Monitoring of side-channel output from electronic devices could provide a means for detecting malware infection of Internet-of-Things devices. (Source: Georgia Tech)

By comparing these unintended side-channel emissions to a database of what the devices should be doing when they are operating normally, researchers can tell if malicious software has been installed.

They will be looking at how the program is changing its behavior, and if an IoT device is attacked, the insertion of malware will affect the program that is running, and that can be detected remotely.

Details of an early prototype of the side-channel technique, called ‘Zero-Overhead Profiling,’ because the monitoring doesn’t affect the system being observed have been presented.

Using IT to take down cyber crime
An ETH Zurich spin-off — xorlab — is developing an IT security solution that provides more effective protection against hacker attacks, and is about to undergo crucial trials in a real business environment.

The ETH spin-off has developed a system that aspires to be far more reliable and cheaper than conventional solutions in protecting companies and governments from hacker attacks.

Since cyber criminals constantly adapt their behavior to suit a changing environment, that makes it difficult to detect an intruder in the system. And while most conventional security solutions watch for suspicious activity within an IT system that could point to unauthorized intrusion, xorlab concentrates on screening the normal behavior of applications and performs this task so meticulously that it can spot any suspicious activity immediately. As such, it is able to isolate malicious files and websites before they can compromise a company’s IT infrastructure.

With this device, Xorlab wants to make the cyperspace a safe place. (Source: Xorlab)

With this device, Xorlab wants to make the cyperspace a safe place. (Source: Xorlab)

The hardware developed by xorlab, is a mini-server weighing 31 kilos.

Lab-on-a-chip nanomaterial safety screening
To predict how potentially hazardous nanomaterials could be, UCLA researchers have designed a laboratory test that uses microchip technology.

According to UCLA professor Huan Meng, certain engineered nanomaterials, such as non-purified carbon nanotubes that are used to strengthen commercial products, could have the potential to injure the lungs if inhaled during the manufacturing process. The new test he helped develop could be used to analyze the extent of the potential hazard.

The same test could also be used to identify biological biomarkers that can help scientists and doctors detect cancer and infectious diseases, they said. Currently, scientists identify those biomarkers using other tests; one of the most common is called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA. But the new platform, which is called semiconductor electronic label-free assay, or SELFA, costs less and is faster and more accurate, according to research published in the journal Scientific Reports.

SELFA uses microchip technology to analyze samples more accurately than other current methods, and in as little as 30 minutes. (Source: UCLA)

SELFA uses microchip technology to analyze samples more accurately than other current methods, and in as little as 30 minutes.
(Source: UCLA)

By contrast, the team explained, SELFA uses microchip technology to analyze samples. The test can take between 30 minutes and two hours, and could cost just a few dollars per sample when high-volume production begins.

The SELFA chip contains a T-shaped nanowire that acts as an integrated sensor and amplifier. To analyze a sample, scientists place it on a sensor on the chip. The vertical part of the T-shaped nanowire converts the current from the molecule being analyzed, and the horizontal portion amplifies that signal to distinguish the molecule from others.