INI Student's Poster Accepted at Top-Tier Conference

August 31, 2005

This November, INI student Patrick Lanigan will be presenting his poster, "Secure Dissemination of Code Updates in Sensor Networks" at the 3rd ACM Conference on Embedded Networked Sensor Systems (SenSys '05). In addition, a two page abstract titled "Poster Abstract: Secure Dissemination of Code Updates in Sensor Networks" will appear in the conference proceedings. "I'm pretty excited to get exposure for my preliminary work at a top-tier conference," says Lanigan.

Lanigan's research explores how to securely update the software on sensor networks. These networks consist of hundreds or thousands of little sensors that can monitor multiple aspects of an environment, such as light, temperature, and air quality. Such networks are used in many critical environments, and occasionally the software on them needs to be updated, especially if these systems are long-lived. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to make sure that a software update is coming from an authorized source. "Right now, anybody can come out and update the software without anybody knowing," says Lanigan.

To address this problem, Lanigan developed a way to digitally sign an update so that unauthorized users cannot install incorrect or malicious code updates in sensor networks. While digital signatures are commonly used on desktop and laptop computers, the embedded processors that make up a sensor network do not have the computing power to handle them. Lanigan's solution to this problem was to spread the cost of a digital signature over an entire program update, so that updates require fewer resources and end up being cheaper on the whole.

The project was sparked by a visit that Lanigan made in the spring of 2005 to ECE/INI faculty members Rajeev Gandhi and Priya Narasimhan after taking their course "Fundamentals of Embedded Systems" (18-342). Lanigan approached Gandhi and Narasimhan to work with them on a research project, and they suggested the field of code updates in sensor networks. The three of them then spent nearly a month looking at the literature on the subject and identifying the problem. Over the summer of 2005 they worked on developing the solution, and by the end of the summer Lanigan's work had been accepted at the SenSys conference. "We very rarely see a student who ramps up that fast and gets it done that fast," says Narasimhan. "This kid is on a roll!"

According to Narasimhan, the SenSys conference is a highly selective conference in the area of sensor networks. The conference will be held in San Diego, California on November 2nd - 4th, 2005, and Lanigan, Gandhi, and Narasimhan all plan to attend. Lanigan hopes to have a full paper on his research results completed in the fall, which he will then submit to further conferences.