Researchers from Dartmouth College claim to have developed a digital ‘magic wand’ that  will prevent hackers from stealing personal data.

The system, called Wanda, will be presented at the IEEE International Conference on Computer Communications held in the San Francisco in April 2016.

Wanda is part of a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project led by Dartmouth called Trustworthy Health and Wellness (THaW). THaW is supported by a $10 million, five-year grant from the NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace programme. It includes experts in computer science, business, behavioural health, health policy and healthcare information technology at Dartmouth College, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University.

The programme aims to protect patients and their confidentiality as medical records move from paper to electronic form and as care increasingly moves into the home. The Wanda digital tool is intended to secure data at home on patients’ computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones and medical devices.

“Wireless and mobile health technologies have great potential to improve quality and access to care, reduce costs and improve health,” said professor of computer science at Dartmouth, David Kotz.

“But these new technologies whether in the form of software for smartphones or specialised devices to be worn, carried or applied as needed, also pose risks if they’re not designed or configured with security and privacy in mind,” continued Kotz.

According to Kotz, one of the main challenges is that most people don’t know how to set up and maintain a secure network in their home. That, he says, can lead to compromised or stolen data or potentially allow hackers access to devices such as heart rate monitors or dialysis machines. That’s where Wanda comes in.

The small device has two antennas separated by one-half wavelength and uses radio strength as a communication channel. The digital tool makes it easy for people to add a new device to their home (or clinic) Wi-Fi network.

Users need only pull the wand from a USB port on the Wi-Fi access point, carry it close to the new device and point it at the device, like a magic wand. The wand securely beams the Wi-Fi network information to the device while preventing anyone nearby from capturing or tampering with the information.

“People love this new approach to connecting devices to Wi-Fi,” said doctoral student, Tim Pierson. “Many of our volunteer testers remarked on the frustration they’ve encountered when configuring wireless devices at home and ask when they can take our wand home.”

“We anticipate our Wanda technology being useful in a wide variety of applications, not just healthcare, and for a wide range of device management tasks, not just Wi-Fi network configuration,” concluded Kotz.

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