Shu using NSF grant to advance visible light communication security

Published: Nov 27, 2017 1:00:00 PM
Media Contact: Chris Anthony,, 334.844.3447

Tao Shu
Tao Shu

Tao Shu, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering, has received a $120,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for his work in visible light communication, or VLC, security.

The NSF EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research, or EAGER, project will investigate the capability of visible light Multiple Input-Multiple Output, or MIMO, in combatting VLC-specific attacks. Shu and his team are researching the security vulnerabilities of VLC and exploring countermeasures to combat these vulnerabilities.

“Due to its many features such as license-free spectrum, abundant bandwidth and Gigabits per second-level transmission rate, visible light communication has been considered to be a promising small-cell solution for alleviating the radio frequency spectrum scarcity problem in the 5G era,” Shu said. “While research on VLC devices has made significant progress in recent years, the security aspect of VLC has not been well understood so far.”

Graphic depicting visible light communications

According to Shu, there initially was a common belief that VLC is intrinsically secure because the propagation of visible light is directive and can be confined within a closed space. However, recent studies have revealed that VLC is vulnerable to eavesdroppers outside of the direct beam of the light, or even outside the closed space, without direct line-of-sight to the light source.

“The special optical nature of visible light propagation subjects VLC to other unique types of attacks, such as line-of-sight blocking and spoofing,” Shu said. “These attacks will constitute serious threats to VLC systems when they are deployed in large scale in the near future.”

Shu is proposing a jamming technique using MIMO technology to counter eavesdropping.

- Written by Carol Nelson