FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Monday, November 01, 2004

When Electronics Cry Wolf

The New York Times has a provocative article today about electronic devices that inadvertently generate radio frequencies that can be confused with emergency alerts -- particularly the 121.5 MHz frequency that's reserved for international distress signals. Apparently, electrical devices ranging from TVs to garage door openers to baby monitors to Christmas lights are capable of generating confusing signals if they malfunction.

For those following the development of pervasive computing, the implications here are clear. How can we move forward with safe, secure pervasive environments if household gadgets can so easily issue erroneous signals? It would seem easy to jam or even hack a pervasive environment with items one has around the house.

Before an organization goes live with a pervasive environment, it will need to stress-test it with the help of security consultants who understand no only encryption and authentication, but how radio frequencies interact, and how seemingly innocent devices can generate interfering signals. This ought to be the next priority for the FCC... though whether the agency takes on the challenge without politicizing it remains to be seen.