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How Wi-Fi Routers Spy on You

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I don’t know about you, but I can’t even imagine life without Internet access. And it’s good to know that Internet is accessible almost everywhere due to the existence of powerful computers and routers. Almost every house, office building and train station is constantly emitting strong Wi-Fi signals that keep us connected to the net.

We’ve gotten used to carrying and using laptops, tablets, smartphones, and the list of Internet-ready devices goes on. And yet, very few of us know for sure how these devices work. Most of us know that when a laptop connects to a router, for example, it sends data requests, which are then processed by a powerful server. Then, the server sends back the requested data to our laptop.

The router, which is one of the important links in this complex communication process, is also gathering information about the way in which the signals travel through the air, adjusting its power whenever the signal gets weaker. Most modern routers are also able to tweak their performance whenever they sense that the devices which are connected to them have the tendency to disconnect from the network.

Believe it or not, this router behavior can be used to track human beings as well – and with a surprising accuracy! Our bodies also absorb Wi-Fi signals and are able to reflect them. This way, scientists who analyze the Wi-Fi signal spectrum are able to tell when a person passes through a Wi-Fi signal, and even identify that person.

If this sounds like a SCI–FI movie to you, it’s time to face the hard evidence. A group of researchers from the Northwestern Polytechnic University of China have posted a paper that details a system which can identify people who walked through a door with an accuracy of about 90%.

Of course, their system must be trained, but it only has to be trained once, and then it can be used over and over. The Chinese researchers have built the system with the goal of identifying people who are living in the same home, and then turn on and off various appliances, set up the light levels, the desired temperature, and so on, depending on the person who has entered the room.

Another group of researchers from Australia and the UK have presented a similar technology in March 2016. Named Wi-Fi ID, their system is able to identify a person from a small group with an accuracy of about 95%. Wi-Fi ID could be used, according to the researchers, to sound an alarm when an unrecognized person enters a room.

Sounds intriguing? The video above shows a system built by a few MIT researchers who were able to track people in a room using a plain router back in 2013. And they managed to do that even through walls! According to researchers at Data Alliance, modern routers which operate using the 802.11ad protocol will also be able to monitor people’s heart rate from a distance, for example.

As you can guess, these technologies can easily be used to spy on people as well. A system called WiKey, which was presented at a conference in 2015, is able to monitor the keyboard keys pressed by a person with an accuracy of 94%, by monitoring finger movements.

It’s clear that the interested parties have access to more and more elaborate methods of spying on us, regular people. So let’s keep on being the nice guys, who don’t have anything to hide, and we’ll be safe 😉