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"Bit by Bit" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers at MIT have improved upon a technique known as "frequency hopping," which protects data transmitted over the internet by sending them across random frequencies. Rather than randomize data in packets of thousands of bits, the MIT method does so with every 1 or 0 bit of data every microsecond -- the smaller data load and faster speed could make the information less likely to be intercepted by hackers.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Bit by bit.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Ah, the Internet of Things. Over 8 billion "things" connected. By 2020, 20 billion wireless wearables, medical devices, vehicles, smart houses and city technologies will be sharing data online. It's a holiday for hackers -- big barrel -- a lot of fish. (Sound effect: fish flops around)

A new technology developed by MIT researchers could sack the hackers. Right now, one of our protections is a method called "frequency hopping" in which each packet of data is sent on a random unique radio frequency channel so hackers can't pin down any one packet. Problem is, hopping large packets is just slow enough to let 'em pull off an attack.

So, the MIT team developed a transmitter that hops individual bits. Really. Every "0" bit every single "1" bit gets transmitted on a different random frequency, that changes every microsecond. No hacker is fast enough to intercept, jam, or overwrite a signal that fast especially when they don't know where it's going to show up.

This new technology has the potential to thwart hacking and address key security challenges across the Internet of Things.

Whackin' the hackers with a high-tech game of "keep away."

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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