Power Consumption Technology Could Help Enterprises Identify Counterfeit Devices

Understanding a device's "power fingerprint" might make it possible to detect security anomalies in Internet of Things as well, startup says



A startup company company launching today could help IT professionals identify a myriad of threats that are difficult to identify via conventional security software and appliances, executives say.

Power Fingerprinting (PFP), which has been operating in stealth mode but launched publicly today, monitors power consumption activity in devices to help identify anomalies that may indicate a security threat. As Kelly Jackson Higgins outlined in a Dark Reading story last week, PFP promises to help detect malware in crtitical infrastructure (SCADA) systems, such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), that are not well-monitored by current, software-based security tools.

In an interview late last week, I had an opportunity to ask PFP whether it might go beyond the critical infrastructure environment to develop methods for tracking security threats in other ways. Because the technology is essentially a means of baselining the power signature of an "authorized" device and then identifying power usage anomalies that might indicate security threats, it seems likely that PFP could take the technology in many different directions. Steven Chen, PFP's founder and executive chairman, offered a few additional applications that were not discussed in Dark Reading's previous story.

Detecting counterfeit devices and parts is one potential direction for PFP. It is estimated that digital device manufacturers lose billions from counterfeit devices and parts each year, and enterprises often are the victims because manufacturers refuse to service them. The PFP technology could potentially detect counterfeit devices, or even devices using counterfeit parts, by recognizing anomalous power signatures.

The Internet of Things (IoT) also presents some interesting opportunities for the startup. Because many current and future network-enabled devices do not contain security sensors or computing capability, the detection of power anomalies might make it possible to detect tampering or hacking attempts without using traditional anti-malware tools. PFP is already talking to auto companies about possible applications for onboard navigation and entertainment systems, and PFP could partner with a microchip maker to include the security technology on chips, extending the anomaly detection capability to a wide range of network-enabled "things," Chen says.

PFP is also doing research to find out how its technology might be used to aid in the detection of zero-day and sophisticated malware. A malware attack frequently creates power fluctuations in the infected device -- as our article noted last week, PFP's technology was able to successfully detect the Stuxnet exploit that escaped many traditional security technologies. PFP executives believe that capability could be extended, both to help enterprises detect malware in the enterprise environment and to help security researchers find malware in the wild.

While some of these applications of PFP's technology may take time to develop, Chen believes that the company will be able to deliver on their potential. "It's just a matter of which ones to focus on first," he says.

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio
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