Project focuses on software-defined radio security

Researchers awarded a US$400,000 grant to explore security issues for SDRs

Improving security for software-defined radios is the goal of a new research project at Virginia Tech.

The researchers have been awarded a US$400,000 Cyber Trust grant from the National Science Foundation to explore a range of security issues for SDRs. The researchers will work on identifying the various threats and risks posed by malicious code being installed on SDRs, and outlining possible countermeasures.

A software-defined radio is, as the name implies, a reprogrammable radio: it can change code to redefine and configure the underlying radio hardware to work at different frequencies.

SDRs are the focus of a range of military wireless research because they promise flexible, resilient communications by exploiting whatever radio spectrum is available. One implication of SDRs is that radio users can safely make use of a much wider range of spectrum (including unused, or white space, spectrum) than is possible today with conventional radios, which are built for a given frequency and restrict the user to that frequency.

But for this very reason, the SDR has captured the interest of others. The Software Defined Radio Forum, an industry group, promotes SDR technology beyond military and emergency applications. And more venture funds are flowing into SDR start-ups focusing on consumer and business markets, such as Sandbridge Technologies.

The Virginia Tech project will complement some of the security work done by the SDR Forum, which has been focusing on preventing malicious code from being downloaded to or installed on SDR devices. The intent is to go beyond the first line of purely preventive measures to risk analysis and identification, and active counter-measures, according to statement by Jung-Min Park, an assistant professor with Virginia Tech's Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and one of the co-principle investigators in the research. The other two co-principles are assistant professor Thomas Hou and professor Jeffrey Reed.

The research results could benefit both SDR vendors and device manufacturers in improving wireless security, and regulators and standards-setting bodies defining SDR security requirements.

The SDR project is under the auspices of Virginia Tech's Wireless@VTech organization, recently formed to coordinate the institution's wireless research.

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