Mirror Mirror on the Wall: Wireless Environment Reconfiguration Attacks Based on Fast Software-Controlled Surfaces


Conference / Medium


Harald Elders-Boll Christof Paar Christian T. Zenger Markus Heinrichs Paul Staat

Research Hub

Research Hub B: Eingebettete Sicherheit

Research Challenges

RC 5: Physical-Layer Security


The intelligent reflecting surface (IRS) is a promising new paradigm in wireless communications for meeting the growing connectivity demands in next-generation mobile networks. IRS, also known as software-controlled metasurfaces, consist of an array of adjustable radio wave reflectors, enabling smart radio environments, e.g., for enhancing the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and spatial diversity of wireless channels. Research on IRS to date has been largely focused on constructive applications. In this work, we demonstrate for the first time that the IRS provides a practical low-cost toolkit for attackers to easily perform complex signal manipulation attacks on the physical layer in real time. We introduce the environment reconfiguration attack (ERA) as a novel class of jamming attacks in wireless radio networks. Here, an adversary leverages the IRS to rapidly vary the electromagnetic propagation environment to disturb legitimate receivers. The IRS gives the adversary a key advantage over traditional jamming: It no longer has to actively emit jamming signals, instead the IRS reflects existing legitimate signals. In addition, the adversary doesn’t need any knowledge about the legitimate channel. We thoroughly investigate the ERA in wireless systems based on the widely employed orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) modulation. We present insights into the attack through analytical analysis, simulations, as well as experiments. Our results show that the ERA allows to severely degrade the available data rates even with reasonably small IRS sizes. Finally, we implement an attacker setup and demonstrate a practical ERA to slow down an entire Wi-Fi network.


Physical Layer Security
Real-world Attacks