Is it just us, or is your WiFi router plotting world domination from your living room? As your WiFi signals stealthily map your every move, we can't help but wonder: Is your router the new secret agent on the block? More on this below. Keep reading, and remember, your WiFi is watching – but who's watching your WiFi? 🔍📡
In a precedent-setting case, police suspected Danny Kyllo, an Oregon resident, of cultivating cannabis within the confines of his home. To build their case, law enforcement deployed a thermal imaging device, revealing unusual heat patterns within Kyllo's residence. This discovery led to the issuance of a search warrant and Kyllo's subsequent arrest.
However, the tide of surveillance is taking a stealthier turn, with an even more controversial and invasive tool lurking within the very walls of your home.
How It Operates
WiFi, often overlooked as a ubiquitous utility, functions through electromagnetic waves in the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency ranges. These waves, akin to visible light but possessing the ability to penetrate walls due to their longer wavelengths, reflect off various surfaces and, when adeptly reconstructed, form images.
The inception of this technology dates back to July 2005, when researchers unveiled an ultra-wideband high-resolution short pulse imaging radar system operating around 10 GHz. Initially intended for military and police use to bolster "enhanced situation awareness," WiFi imaging gradually gained traction.
The Race to Refine
Progress initially unfolded at a measured pace until 2017, when German researchers showcased WiFi imaging's potential by employing holography techniques. Their methods permitted the discernment of rough object shapes, including people and pets.
In 2018, UC Santa Barbara researchers issued a warning in their paper titled "Et Tu Alexa?" that underscored the privacy threats posed by widespread wireless device deployment. The ability to track precise physical locations and movements through adversarial WiFi sensing became a concern.
In a breakthrough moment in February 2019, Michigan State University demonstrated that 5.5 GHz signals, matching the 802.11n/ac WiFi protocol, could be used to create 2-D images, marking a significant advancement in WiFi imaging.
Integration of AI and the Leap to 3-D
At MobiCom 2020, researchers from the University of Buffalo introduced WiPose, the first 3-D human pose construction framework using commercial WiFi devices. This system harnessed the previously discussed 2-D imaging technology to construct 3-D avatars of captured individuals, bolstered by deep learning models that encoded human skeleton knowledge.
In 2019, former DARPA contractor Ray Liu launched a commercial product leveraging WiFi signals to sense vital signs, claiming remarkable accuracy.
In 2021, researchers further refined imaging technology, achieving high-resolution results with commercial WiFi signals through beamforming on the 802.11n/ac protocol.
Ready for Deployment
In December 2022, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University combined WiFi sensing with DensePose, a technology developed by Meta/Facebook to map human pixels to 3D human body surfaces. This fusion allowed the detection of human poses based solely on WiFi signals passing through the environment.
Big Brother's New Eyes
While the initial pitch for this technology centered on military and police applications, the focus has shifted toward enhancing home security. However, the primary beneficiaries remain law enforcement, the military, and intelligence agencies. This technology offers an unprecedented and surreptitious means of monitoring homes and workplaces comprehensively.
With nearly a third of Gen Z favoring government surveillance cameras within homes, this unobtrusive method could garner even broader support. It enables tracking individuals within their homes, providing insights into their activities, whether it's using the bathroom or engaging in intimate moments.
Given the ease with which intelligence agencies secure secret warrants and target individuals for surveillance, it's entirely plausible that your WiFi router and access points could be feeding imagery to an alphabet agency based on your social media activity. One might soon find themselves at the mercy of an unannounced raid by law enforcement.
Hot Take: Don't be surprised if your WiFi router starts requesting a martini shaken, not stirred.
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