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New Consortium to Spread UWB Adoption and Standardize Security

A handful of technology companies have created the FiRa Consortium to develop a standard for UWB security, in order to boost the development of interoperable deployments using what the group calls fine ranging and positioning capabilities.
By Claire Swedberg

UWB technology, by its nature, is more secure than some other wireless technologies that employ signal strength to identify a tag or other device, Songukrishnasamy explains. Those signal strength-based transmissions (such as NFC and RFID) can be intercepted if an individual is able to come between a tag (such as the kind built into a car key fob) and a receiver (the car's locking system, for instance) and amplify the signal to fool the system into thinking the key fob is closer to the vehicle than it actually is. Companies can employ encryption to prevent these man-in-the-middle attacks.

Ultra-wideband technology employs time-of-flight (ToF) analytics to identify each tag's location; the receiver measures the time of a tag's response to a signal and identifies that tag's location accordingly. A man-in-the-middle-style attack would actually slow the response, making it harder to fool the receiver. Despite that, Songukrishnasamy reports, UWB still can be made more secure. The consortium hopes to accomplish that greater security with a standard method for creating a scrambled time stamp, thereby making it more difficult to intercept. "We would like to propose a standard way of creating that scrambled time stamp so no one can intercept the message," he states.

UWB is used for a variety of applications, and HID Global is focused predominantly on access-control solutions for which very precise location data is required, as well as for devices such as secured laptops and desktop computers. When assets are being tracked, UWB provides location accuracy that is more specific than standard RFID solutions, by detecting, for example, the room or part of a room in which an asset is located, based on transmissions from that asset's tag. However, Songukrishnasamy says, "If you are doing more data exchange between asset and handset, you want to make sure that communication is secure."

With regard to peer-to-peer solutions, two UWB devices can locate each other even without requiring fixed anchors or access points. This allows people to easily find one another in crowded spaces, or to locate items even when they are placed in hidden areas. The consortium's working groups have begun scheduling meetings to start defining the security standard. The next step will be to hire a third-party laboratory to certify the new products and solutions from UWB technology companies.

On Sept. 8-12, the consortium will host a booth at the Global Security Exchange (GSX) trade show in Chicago, Ill. The group intends to demonstrate UWB technology at HID Global's booth, and to then have a presence at future industrial trade shows. Going forward, Songukrishnasamy says, the group hopes to attract more members. "We're actively looking for more participants to build the ecosystem," he states, and to engage more companies in the effort to drive the adoption of UWB technology. "At this point, we believe there's a compelling need to have a better technology to create a delightful user experience for access control" and other applications.

HID Global, which makes security-based identification products, intends to build UWB technology into some of its solutions in the future. "HID Global is constantly looking for technology to enhance the user experience," Songukrishnasamy says. "As soon as a specification for FiRa is defined and published, we are committed to releasing products using the technology." Meetings are being held at least quarterly at rotating locations in Mountain View, Calif., and Busan, Korea, with European sites being added this year.

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