We are being watched, part 2 of 7: What your wifi knows about you.

Maxwell Anderson
Feb 12, 2017 · 3 min read
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This is a seven-part miniseries I’m doing on privacy and unauthorized surveillance in the digital age. Check out: Part 1, “Our TVs are watching us”

The first post in this series was about how TV manufacturers can track everything you watch. What if they could do more? What if they could know your heart rate? What if they could read your lips? I’m not aware of any TVs that can do these kinds of things but, frighteningly, with a little modification, your wifi router already can.

A few months ago, Kevah Waddell wrote an article in The Atlantic detailing how hackers could spy on people inside a home or ofice using off the shelf commercial wifi stations.

As people move through a space with a Wi-Fi signal, their bodies affect it, absorbing some waves and reflecting others in various directions. By analyzing the exact ways that a Wi-Fi signal is altered when a human moves through it, researchers can “see” what someone writes with their finger in the air, identify a particular person by the way that they walk, and even read a person’s lips with startling accuracy — in some cases even if a router isn’t in the same room as the person performing the actions.

This is a big deal for law enforcement. Waddell writes that police using new methods of analyzing wifi data could “tell how many people were in a room from behind a solid wooden door, a 6-inch hollow wall supported by steel beams, or an 8-inch concrete wall — and detect messages drawn in the air from a distance of five meters (but still in another room) with 100 percent accuracy.”

It gets crazier. Researchers at MIT claim they can monitor breathing and heart rates with 99% accuracy. That technology could be a wonderful thing. Imagine no more infants died of SIDS because their parents had a wifi system to alert them if the baby stopped breathing. Maybe the elderly could live more if they had wifi systems monitoring their movement. Remember those commercials for Lifecall (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”)? What if grandpa’s wifi system automatically made a call for him if it detected he wasn’t moving? The technology could have great applications.

Other uses of wifi capabilities seem darker. Some researchers developed a a way to determine “what keys a user was pressing on a keyboard by monitoring minute finger movements. Once trained, WiKey could recognize a sentence as it was typed with 93.5 percent accuracy — all using nothing but a commercially available router and some custom code created by the researchers.” What good are passwords if they could be hacked any time you type them in?

Anyone ready to switch back to ethernet cables?

Read widely. Read wisely.

Max

All The Ways Your Wi-Fi Router Can Spy on Youby Kaveh Waddel in The Atlantic (5 minute read)

PART 1 of this series: Our TVs are watching us

PART 3 of this series: What your wifi knows about you

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Maxwell Anderson

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I publish The Weekend Reader. Subscribe at www.maxwella.com I’m also a founding partner of www.saturnfive.com.

THE WEEKEND READER

READ WIDELY. READ WISELY. The Weekend Reader explores technology, culture and the meaningful life in the modern world. I share the most valuable writing from multiple sources to explore the ideas and trends shaping our world.

Maxwell Anderson

Written by

I publish The Weekend Reader. Subscribe at www.maxwella.com I’m also a founding partner of www.saturnfive.com.

THE WEEKEND READER

READ WIDELY. READ WISELY. The Weekend Reader explores technology, culture and the meaningful life in the modern world. I share the most valuable writing from multiple sources to explore the ideas and trends shaping our world.

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