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News Release

$6M IARPA grant to secure wireless data communication

November 3, 2021 -- A team co-led by the University of California San Diego has been awarded a $6 million grant from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) to secure classified data transmissions using smart radio technology. The researchers will partner with JASR systems, a San Diego-based company focused on advanced remote sensing and navigation technologies.

The grant is part of a new program by IARPA—dubbed Securing Compartmented Information with Smart Radio Systems (SCISRS)—that aims to protect sensitive data communications from being breached in government facilities and “in the wild.” 

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Dinesh Bharadia

“The project funded by IARPA would not only help develop solutions for intelligence and defense agencies, but also for everyday people since most of our communications today are wireless,” said Dinesh Bharadia, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “Wireless systems, including 5G systems, are long overdue for security and privacy features, which are currently non-existent. It is very easy today for anyone to mimic your Wi-Fi Access Point, know everything you send over the world wide web, and worse yet, get access to all your data, and you wouldn’t even know it.” 

The goal of the project is to develop smart radio systems to detect and characterize suspicious radiofrequency signals, or RF anomalies, in complex RF environments. These RF anomalies include: 

- Low probability of intercept signals (signals that are hard to see because they are buried in noise and masked by stronger signals)

- Altered or mimicked signals (these signals attempt to appear benign—for example, the can look like signals from a cell tower or your neighbor’s Wi-Fi—but are actually soliciting communication with your devices)

- Unintended emissions (signals that are not meant to be transmitted and inadvertently carry sensitive information; sources for these emissions include screens, video monitors, computer mice and KVM switches on keyboards)

The UC San Diego team will design and build algorithms that can identify RF anomalies by continuously scanning a wide range of radio wavelengths in near real-time and with high accuracy. The team’s approach will involve using frequency and spatial channelization techniques to suppress interfering background signals and expose weak, anomalous RF signals. The researchers will also use deep learning techniques and large-array sensor data that they developed to sense the environment, and extract and classify signals from noise. 

UC San Diego researchers will work with JASR Systems, which will develop an efficient implementation of the algorithms, then test the implementation of these systems on the RF testbed at UC San Diego. 

Bharadia, who is a faculty member of the university’s Center for Wireless Communications and director of the Wireless Communication, Sensing and Networking Group (WCSNG), is a co-principal investigator on the project along with Jinendra Ranka, CEO of JASR Systems. Other investigators on the team include: Fredric J. Harris, an expert in digital signal processing and adjunct professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC San Diego; and Peter Gerstoft, a machine learning expert and data scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and adjunct professor of electrical and computer engineering (lab website: Noiselab).

“This partnership between UC San Diego and JASR Systems will work toward securing our everyday communications by developing world class solutions for identifying malicious and nefarious behavior with our wireless communications. As a future extension, we also hope to develop a low-cost solution that anyone can readily acquire to detect such nefarious activities,” said Bharadia.

Media Contacts

Liezel Labios
Jacobs School of Engineering
858-246-1124
llabios@ucsd.edu