Sign In

Communications of the ACM

Inside risks

Risks of Trusting the Physics of Sensors

View as: Print Mobile App ACM Digital Library In the Digital Edition Share: Send by email Share on reddit Share on StumbleUpon Share on Hacker News Share on Tweeter Share on Facebook
Risks of Trusting the Physics of Sensors, illustration

Credit: Getty Images

Sensors are transducers that translate the physical into the electrical. Computer software then interprets and operates on the binary representations rather than the direct physical or electrical quantities. For instance, drone software uses the abstraction of a signed integer to represent the output of a gyroscope for flight stability and attitude control.13 A transduction attack exploits a vulnerability in the physics of a sensor to manipulate its output or induce intentional errors. For example, malicious acoustic interference can influence the output of sensors trusted by software in systems ranging from smartphones to medical devices to autonomous vehicles. Autonomous systems should remain trustworthy despite untrustworthy components. Techniques from embedded security can help protect against analog threats to autonomous systems in the Internet of Things.

Threats. Thieves can break into cars using man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks against keyless entry systems.5 Automotive manufacturers can neutralize MITM attacks with proper use of cryptography. However, these MITM attacks exploit automotive systems that intend for radio waves to allow access. In contrast, transduction attacks use unintended functions of circuitry to threaten the integrity and availability of sensor output. Cryptography will not suffice to defend against transduction attacks. Attackers can exploit the physics of materials to fool sensors into becoming unintentional receivers of unwanted, malicious signals. The threat has grown such that the U.S. government warns manufacturers of transduction attacks that exploit the physics of sensors.1


No entries found

Log in to Read the Full Article

Sign In

Sign in using your ACM Web Account username and password to access premium content if you are an ACM member, Communications subscriber or Digital Library subscriber.

Need Access?

Please select one of the options below for access to premium content and features.

Create a Web Account

If you are already an ACM member, Communications subscriber, or Digital Library subscriber, please set up a web account to access premium content on this site.

Join the ACM

Become a member to take full advantage of ACM's outstanding computing information resources, networking opportunities, and other benefits.

Subscribe to Communications of the ACM Magazine

Get full access to 50+ years of CACM content and receive the print version of the magazine monthly.

Purchase the Article

Non-members can purchase this article or a copy of the magazine in which it appears.
Sign In for Full Access
» Forgot Password? » Create an ACM Web Account