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School of Engineering

Wireless security for keyless entry systems

Thursday, February 16, 2017
Continuing the work they started as a senior capstone project at Tufts, three alumni have filed for a patent on a wireless device that would help secure vehicles and garage doors against replay attacks.
Abstract rendering of a wireless security network

Every year, students in Professor of the Practice Ron Lasser's Senior Design Project class produce capstone projects. By the end of the year, the teams develop prototypes and technical notes on their work. In the process, students learn firsthand about innovative technologies and the design process, and they practice management, communication, and life skills that will serve them far beyond the Tufts campus.

Last year, senior teams worked on capstone projects that ranged from a drink tampering detection device to an autonomous search and rescue UAV. Studying electrical and computer engineering, Alex Goldschmidt, Jake Hellman, and Alexander Yared came up with the idea for a wireless device that would add an extra layer of encryption to keyless entry systems. The device, which the team called Wireless Security for Keyless-entry (WiSK), would secure garage doors and vehicles against wireless attackers.

One method of breaking into encrypted networks, called a replay attack, has a relatively simple approach: storing and then playing back an encrypted message to gain entry. An attacker using a replay attack wouldn't even have to decrypt the message from the fob in order to open the car or garage door. Goldschmidt says, "As current vehicle design increasingly integrates electronics and connectivity to the Internet of Things, both engineers and consumers must consider the potential security risks that these technologies produce." That's where WiSK comes in.

WiSK was designed to receive the wireless command, add an encrypted timestamp, and then transmit the message to a receiver that would make sure the message should be accepted. This added level of security would deter replay attacks, which car and garage doors manufactured prior to 2014 are particularly susceptible to.

After graduating from Tufts, Goldschmidt, Hellman, and Yared have continued to work on WiSK, and they recently filed for a provisional patent.