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Secure and Accurate Time Synchronization for Wireless Multi-Hop Networks
Prof. Dr. Mesut Günes
In many IoT scenarios securely synchronized time is crucial for security: A security flaw in time synchronization can often be exploited for replay attacks or the use of expired cryptographic key. Hence, the security of the whole system often is built upon the security of the time synchronization. On the hand there are use cases that have strict requirements on the accuracy of time synchronization. These use cases are often found in the domain of industrial control, but also wireless multi-room audio devices or for some approaches for indoor positioning highly accurate time synchronization is needed.

Current solutions for time synchronization cannot provide the required security, the required accuracy, or are ill-suited for wireless communication or multi-hop synchronization. Examples of such solutions include PTP [1] that can provide accurate time synchronization, but only recently got an optional security extension that are not yet widely adopted. Even though PTP is only specified for Ethernet, it could be used with wireless communication interfaces [2]. However, PTP was designed with the minimum frame size of Ethernet in mind, resulting in high overhead and long air times in the wireless use case.

Other solutions such as LATe [3] are specifically engineered for IoT use cases, so that compact message formats are used and security features are baked into the protocol, rather than being an afterthought. This makes LATe an excellent choice when a securely synchronized system time with accuracy measured in seconds is needed, such as for validating cryptographic signatures. Yet, LATe cannot address strict accuracy requirements, making it only suitable for a subset of IoT scenarios.

This research project aims to develop a secure time synchronization protocol for the IoT that optionally can provide sub-microsecond accuracy. High synchronization accuracy even in multi-hop scenarios and minimal communication overhead are explicit design goals of the protocol. Finally, the time synchronization should leak little information about the topology of the wireless network and be robust against jitter attacks on the synchronization accuracy.

[1]: IEEE Instrumentation and Measurement Society, "IEEE Draft Standard for a Precision Clock Synchronization Protocol for Networked Measurement and Control Systems Amendment: Master-slave optional alternative terminology", 2020, https://standards.ieee.org/ieee/1588g/10478/

[2]: G. von Zengen, K. Garlichs, Y. Schrcöder and L. C. Wolf, "A sub-microsecond clock synchronization protocol for wireless industrial monitoring and control networks," IEEE International Conference on Industrial Technology (ICIT), 2017, https://doi.org/10.1109/ICIT.2017.7915545

[3]: R. E. Navas and L. Toutain, "LATe: A Lightweight Authenticated Time Synchronization Protocol for IoT," Global Internet of Things Summit (GIoTS), 2018, https://doi.org/10.1109/GIOTS.2018.8534565

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