The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is the institute in charge of designing and creating the WiFi standards that we use every day. Their latest creation is the WiFi 6E, but for the future they are working on at least two new ones: 802.11be, better known as WiFi 7, and 802.11bf, a new specification that will turn our devices into object sensors.
This has been announced by the IEEE, which states that in September 2024 the 802.11bf standard, turning WiFi not only into a communication system, but into a wireless protocol for sensors. The name of the project is Wi-Fi Sensing (SENS), and its objective is to use interference and changes in signals to measure the range, speed, direction, movement and proximity of objects and people.
They are currently working on improving their precision
This can, for example, allow a router to be able to boost the WiFi signal in a specific direction, avoiding objects around it such as a vase or a shelf. However, it is also a challenge in terms of privacy, since with this it is also possible to detect whether or not there are people nearby. Thus, a WiFi hack can allow someone to know if someone is home just by knowing the WiFi password.
From the IEEE they affirm that current research and development efforts are focused on improve system accuracy, and that they are not currently focused on the privacy issues that it may present.
Network standards researchers have known for years that WiFi networks can be used to obtain information about objects and people around senders and receivers by the way waves bounce around. Some research has even tried to create a motion detection system to detect gestures that are made on top of a router.
All these experimental uses have used different WiFi standards, but until now there was no common one that would allow to create easily replicable implementations between manufacturers. So this can mean creating new uses in ways we don’t even imagine today.
802.11bf can pose a threat to privacy
For this reason, Francesco Restuccia, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University, affirms that it is necessary that this type of systems can be easily disabled by users, since with an advanced motion detection system it may become possible to detect keystrokes, gestures or any other type of activity.
In addition to the obvious privacy issues, the standard still requires a lot of work to deal with interferenceSince spectrum sharing with other technologies may introduce noise. For example, using Bluetooth or a microwave nearby, both of which operate at 2.4 GHz, may cause interference. At 5 and 6 GHz, however, there are hardly any elements that interfere as there is nothing else that uses those frequencies, so they can be the ones chosen to detect objects.
In turn, they do not know whether to dedicate a part of the spectrum to SENS, or whether to use data packets in the normal spectrum for motion detection. The former would imply that the maximum speed of WiFi networks it could be reduced.