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Timing is Everything for Securing Wireless Communications

July 14, 2015

By Steven Chabinsky
In Christian Science Monitor “Passcode”

If you think that computer intrusions are the main thing we need to worry about when it comes to cybersecurity, think again. There’s growing concern about the implications of our increasingly wireless world and how readily it can be disrupted.

When it comes to our reliance on the electromagnetic spectrum for communication, I’m reminded of the lyrics from “The air that I breathe” by the Hollies: “Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe and to love you.”

Today, the air that we breathe also serves as a primary conduit for transmitting voice communications, establishing network connectivity, and enabling remote control over physical objects that run the gamut from military drones over Afghanistan to local traffic light signals.

But the downside to this high tech phenomenon lies in the potential for individuals, terrorist groups, or nations to intentionally deny, degrade, or alter our wireless signals. While it’s taken as a given that our traditional international sparring partners such as Russia have advanced electronic warfare jamming capabilities, individuals can also cause harm by using handheld equipment costing less than $500.

It’s true that “jammers,” the name given to those devices that are designed to deny or degrade wireless signals, are illegal to market, sell, or use in the US. Yet, despite a string of enforcement actions, there remains no shortage of websites offering this equipment for sale, including this one hiding in plain sight at jammer-store.com.

A few years back, US Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert recognized our growing wireless vulnerability, writing, “Inexpensive jammers, signal detectors, computer processors, and communication systems make it easier today for unfriendly states, terrorists, and criminals to affect our ability to use the EM-cyber environment.” With this in mind, the Admiral concluded that “[f]uture conflicts will be won in a new arena – that of the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace. We must merge, then master those realms.”

And there’s the rub. What if we don’t master those realms, but somebody else does? What if everyone masters those realms?

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