Did you think that you can only be tracked online? Think again. Yanzi Zhu and Co, researchers at the University of California, have developed a method that makes WiFi signal tracking a terrifying reality. Read on to learn the full story on how your WiFi transmitter can soon be used to track your every movement inside your own home.
WiFi Signal Tracking – Can We Track People Inside Their Homes Now?
WiFi Signal Tracking – The Full Story
Researchers at the University of California came up with a way to use ambient Wi-Fi signals to see through walls using a smartphone.
Previously, it was possible to simply “see” the WiFi signals inside a building. Now, though, it’s very possible to track you inside your own home. The technology relies on reading the changes in the radio waves emitted by your WiFi transmitter. For this technology to work, the researchers have to first locate the WiFi transmitter inside of the house. This isn’t as difficult as it once was.
By walking outside of the monitored location a few times, the researchers were able to compute the location of the transmitter to a 92.6% accuracy. After the transmitter is located, the researchers can map out the WiFi signals. This way, they can detect the reflections and distortions that occur when an object or a person moves. If the monitored location has more than one transmitter, the accuracy rate increases to a terrifying 99%.
The good news is that the technology developed by the researchers can only track whether or not a person is inside the building being monitored. Since the WiFi sniffers they used only signifies the changes in the waves, the researchers weren’t able to see or figure out what someone is doing inside of the location. The bad news is that the technology can/will, be developed further with this limitation in mind.
In other words, a little more work on this tech may very well provide the world with a tool that monitors actions, locations, and subtle movements using WiFi signals. I don’t know about you, but the idea of a hacker getting access to these tools is terrifying to me.
How will WiFi Signal Tracking Be Used?
As with all new technology, there are both good and bad projected uses for this kind of location tracking.
Pros of WiFi Signal Tracking
There are actually legitimate reasons for developing this kind of tracking. The medical field, specifically, can gain much from developing this tool to the point of tracking movements as well as locations. Think of the implications this kind of technology has for emergency services! Specifically for elderly people or people with long-term chronic illnesses. Imagine this: an elderly person falls down and can’t get up. The developed technology monitors that movement and notices that it’s not a common action for this person, and notifies the local emergency services. This prompts a quick response an can possibly save lives.
Outside of the medical field, this technology can be used to improve VR gaming. Imagine being able to use your WiFi signal to properly map out your “playing field”. This will help VR game developers produce more personalized gaming experiences.
Smart services (IoT) can also benefit from this kind of WiFi signal tracking. Imagine your Smart home catering to your every whim based on where you are in the house. Walk into the living room? The temperature automatically changes to your liking. Go to sleep in your bed? The Smart house then turns off all of the lights and appliances you aren’t currently using anymore. Honestly, the possibilities are endless and very exciting.
Cons of WiFi Signal Tracking
On the other hand, this new technology poses a lot of risks to user privacy. Unlike online tracking, this kind of tech can physically track you inside your own home. It’s very possible for bad agents to end up using this kind of technology to facilitate theft, for example. Other bad agents might use the technology to further monitor your activities, both online and in real life. Governments can increase their surveillance by adding in physical surveillance as well as internet-based.
In other words, there are legitimately terrifying possibilities that an attacker, hacker, or bad agent can use this technology for. Now, the good news is that the researchers have already come up with 3 plausible defenses against this type of attack:
- Geofencing WiFi Signals: creating a geographical boundary for WiFi Signals.
- WiFi Rate Limiting: decreasing the volume of the WiFi signals propagated.
- Signal Obfuscation: adding noises to the WiFi signals that make it very difficult to locate the transmitter.
WiFi Signal Tracking – Final Thoughts
So, what do you guys think? Is this tech worth developing? And how will this reflect on the new data retention laws popping up all over the world? Honestly, for me, I feel like mankind needs to get a better grip on the privacy risks of the technology currently available for public use before they start commercializing tech that meshes the physical with the digital in such scary way.