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How radio waves are used and “spoofed”?

Keysight Technologies demonstrated critical technology at the 2019 Association of Old Crows conference in Washington, D.C.

You may have seen remote control cars making circles on the floor. You may even own one yourself. But, do you know how they work?

Batteries provide engine to the car. These electrons flow from the battery into the motor. The motor rotates the tires so that the car can move forward and backwards. In addition, the motor controls arms which can turn the wheels. These two systems allow the car to go forward and backwards as well as turn.

The handset also has a battery which transfers information from the buttons to radio waves. These radio waves are sent to the car and received by a signal receiver. The transmitters send signals to the signal receiver. These radio waves change frequency based on the information it sends. The frequency is the code that tells the car what to do.

Keysight Technologies has a great demonstration showing a 21st-century demonstration of this process. They add a signal recorder and a signal transmitter to their set up. Altogether, this demonstration uses:

  • Remote control handset
  • Remote control car with signal receiver
  • Signal recorder
  • Signal transmitter

Students first drive the remote-control car normally. They use the remote control handset to send waves to the car’s signal receiver. The car interprets those radio waves and perform the driving maneuvers sent by the remote control handset.

Keysight Technologies’ remote control car, remote controller, signal receiver and signal transmitter (bottom).

At the same time, the signal recorder updates the display showing the frequency of the radio waves. Not only does this device show the frequency of the radio waves, it records them! These recorded frequencies can then be transmitted again at any time.

The second part of the demonstration shows how signals can be recorded to “spoof” a system. “Spoof” means sending controls to a device in a way that makes it think it is connected to its controlling system. In this demonstration, the signal transmitter spoofs the remote control handset. Even when the handset is turned off, the remote-control car can be moved!

The signal transmitter uses the data saved by the signal recorder. It transmits these signals in the same order at the same frequency. This signal instructs the car to move in the exact same ways. In the second part of the demonstration, the remote control handset is turned off and the signal transmitter sends its signal. The remote-control car exactly duplicates the motions the student just did.

The purpose of this demonstration is to show that radio signals used to control remote vehicles can be manipulated by technology. This technology can take control of another system. For example, a drone that is operating inappropriately could be controlled by our military using a signal transmitter that overwhelms the drone’s operation signal.

Your turn! Think about another example of how someone could use this technology. Explain what parts they would need, how they would use them, and what the result would be.

Upload your description here!