WiFi Spy

WiFi Device Can See Through Walls: “Track a Human by Using Body as an Antenna Array”
As if things weren’t creepy enough already.

A new appli­ca­tion of WiFi could take sur­veil­lance to the next level.

WiFi already makes a per­fectly good track­ing device – gov­ern­ment and law enforce­ment agen­cies already col­lect loca­tion data from phones and com­put­ers – but ulti­mately, its accu­racy is weak.

Now, MIT tech geeks have found a way to pin­point loca­tion and track com­plex move­ment pat­terns with far greater accu­racy – and what’s more, it can track people’s steps through walls, and the indi­vid­u­als or groups don’t even need to carry a cell phone!

Researchers con­tinue to pur­sue invis­i­ble, per­va­sive ways to track human beings. […] Now there might be a new con­cern on the hori­zon – pub­lic WiFi sig­nals that can iden­tify and track groups of indi­vid­u­als, even if they are not hold­ing a per­sonal con­nected device.

Holy… tracked and fol­lowed, with no cell phones even nec­es­sary?

Indeed. There’s lit­tle illu­sion left. Track­ing humans is the whole point of the technology’s appli­ca­tion.

The project’s authors Fadel Adib and Dina Katabi explain in their abstract for MIT:

Wi-​Fi sig­nals are typ­i­cally infor­ma­tion car­ri­ers between a trans­mit­ter and a receiver. In this paper, we show that Wi-​Fi can also extend our senses, enabling us to see mov­ing objects through walls and behind closed doors. In par­tic­u­lar, we can use such sig­nals to iden­tify the num­ber of peo­ple in a closed room and their rel­a­tive loca­tions. We can also iden­tify sim­ple ges­tures made behind a wall, and com­bine a sequence of ges­tures to com­mu­ni­cate mes­sages to a wire­less receiver with­out car­ry­ing any trans­mit­ting device.



It shows how one can track a human by treat­ing the motion of a human body as an antenna array and track­ing the result­ing RF beam.

The MIT group are work­ing with two sim­i­lar plat­forms, known as Wi-​Vi and WiTrack – exten­sions of the WiFi tech­nol­ogy we all take for granted. Gigaom explains the tech­ni­cals:

WiTrack oper­ates by track­ing spe­cial­ized radio sig­nals reflected off a person’s body to pin­point loca­tion and move­ment. The sys­tem uses mul­ti­ple anten­nas: one for trans­mit­ting sig­nals and three for receiv­ing. The sys­tem then builds a geo­met­ric model of the user’s loca­tion by trans­mit­ting sig­nals between the anten­nas and using the reflec­tions off a person’s body to esti­mate the dis­tance between the anten­nas and the user. WiTrack is able to locate motion with sig­nif­i­cantly increased accu­racy, as opposed to track­ing devices that rely on wire­less sig­nals, accord­ing to Adib.

“Because of the lim­ited band­width, you can­not get very high loca­tion accu­racy using WiFi sig­nals,” Adib says. “WiTrack trans­mits a very low-​power radio sig­nal, 100 times smaller than WiFi and 1,000 times smaller than what your cell phone can trans­mit. But the sig­nal is struc­tured in a par­tic­u­lar way to mea­sure the time from when the sig­nal was trans­mit­ted until the reflec­tions come back. WiTrack has a geo­met­ric model that maps reflec­tion delays to the exact loca­tion of the per­son. The model can also elim­i­nate reflec­tions off walls and fur­ni­ture to allow us to focus on track­ing human motion.”

These videos make the track­ing capa­bil­i­ties clear enough.

The tracked users will be poten­tially given incen­tives for using the tech­nol­ogy – with appli­ca­tions includ­ing the abil­ity to turn off a light from the other room by point­ing at it through the walls.

Sim­i­lar sys­tems, such as the WiSee, have been devel­oped specif­i­cally to allow users to com­mand smart appli­ances in their homes from other rooms by direct­ing ges­tures to turn on or off devices. It’s part of the lure of smart homes, which also dou­ble as totally per­va­sive panop­ti­cons from hell.

Basi­cally, high tech sur­veil­lance of your every action will be so com­mon place, that you will con­sider it domes­tic. Reporter Kevin Sam­son notes:

As if on cue, we are pre­sented with the enor­mous ben­e­fits of this low-​cost tech­nol­ogy, while being given none of the poten­tial neg­a­tives. In the video, we see the con­ve­nience ele­ment that would fit into the var­i­ous appli­ca­tions of smart homes and the Inter­net of Things. Sec­ondly are video games, which would take the some­what cum­ber­some Wii to entirely new lev­els…

You’ll be able to tell if your kids lis­tened to your orders to go to bed, or whether they are play­ing qui­etly behind their bed­room door.

Mean­while, your employ­ers will know if you are sit­ting duti­fully at your sta­tion, and even if your breath­ing pat­terns give away doz­ing off for a nap or get­ting overly excited by a diver­sion or game.

Law enforce­ment will know the loca­tion and move­ment of sus­pects behind walls before knock­ing on the door (radar sweep devices already offer them this ques­tion­able and unchecked power with­out a war­rant), etc. etc.

There are many appli­ca­tions for this tech­nol­ogy, but while it is being sold as a con­sumer con­ve­nience (and nov­elty), more seri­ous appli­ca­tions are surely being used to track and log pop­u­la­tion move­ments with pre­ci­sion.



• Loca­tion track­ing Wi-​Fi is now being tested in Seat­tle and other loca­tions as part of a wire­less mesh net­work. Of course, most already know that their cell phones and com­put­ers share data with their providers, the NSA and a host of other data hun­gry watch­ers, but now the police are using boxes set up at numer­ous street inter­sec­tions to ping and track cell phones in the area, log­ging loca­tion data for thou­sands of dri­vers, pas­sen­gers and pedes­tri­ans that could be used to estab­lish the where­abouts of a sus­pect, pur­sue crim­i­nals, as evi­dence in traf­fic dis­putes or per­haps for crowd con­trol.

The Wi-​Fi track­ing devices appear as white boxes mounted on poles or street lights. The data inter­con­nects through a wire­less mesh net­work with exist­ing traf­fic cam­eras, police squad vehi­cles, net­works of cam­eras and other inter­faces on the emerg­ing fiber net­work, and a host of author­i­ties in the region, includ­ing police, the Sheriff’s Depart­ment and the regional fusion cen­ter. Offi­cially, the mesh net­work aides com­mu­ni­ca­tion dur­ing emer­gency sce­nar­ios, but also func­tions as a roam­ing live-​time sur­veil­lance net­work.

But again, the lat­est WiFi devel­op­ments mean that you don’t even need to be car­ry­ing a cell phone or com­puter to be tracked.

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