By: Jordan Manser, Marketing Intern
Recently, Laird announced the latest production firmware release for the BL600 Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) modules. The latest BL600 firmware, version 126.96.36.199, implements multiple features designed to enhance security, which is a critical issue in wireless communication. Typically, BLE uses Simple Secure Pairing when two devices wish to communicate securely. This process establishes a secret link key to correctly authenticate devices. However, in most cases the pairing process itself is carried out on the same exposed wireless medium and is therefore still vulnerable to interceptions and attacks. Thus, Laird developed an additional mechanism for bonding using the standard inbuilt simple secure pairing called Whisper Mode Pairing.
What is Whisper Mode Pairing?
Whisper Mode Pairing is a completely unique approach that further enhances security and ease during the pairing process. In this mode, the transmission power is automatically decreased when pairing is detected to be in progress; thus a proximity based enhanced security is achieved. This behavior ensures that pairing is not completed unless devices are within a relatively close proximity to each other. With Whisper Mode, end users who are implementing Laird’s BL600 into their products can be certain they are connecting to the correct, intended remote device simply by bringing them into close proximity. In addition, Laird’s Whisper Mode may decrease footprint and BOM (bill of materials) costs for OEMs by removing requirements for additional wireless technologies, such as Near Field Communications (NFC).
BLE vs NFC
Many regard NFC as more secure than other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi because it requires the two devices to be in close proximity to one another. A drawback though is that NFC typically requires additional hardware and support for OOB pairing procedure at both ends of the connection, which consequently results in greater power consumption. As an alternative Laird’ s Whisper Mode Pairing creates a ‘bubble’ of influence, outside of which pairing will not succeed; thus BL600 modules offer proximity-enhanced security without the need for additional hardware costs, code, power consumption and operates with any BLE device. An additional benefit of the BL600 firmware release is that it offers AES Encryption and Decryption, which further enhances security. Whisper Mode Pairing coupled with these cryptographic functions provides increased security and encryption, which allows end-users to make trusted connections and private data transfers.
Many application areas exist for both BLE and NFC, particularly in the medical market. Forecasts anticipate significant growth in mobility for both medical devices and patients. A Research and Markets report states that the mobile healthcare market is anticipated to grow at a rate of 30.5% from 2013 to 2018, with Bluetooth and NFC among the top trends. In addition, patient safety, data accuracy, and mobility will all play a role in security, which will continue to be an especially critical issue in healthcare. With increased security and encryption, the BL600 is well suited for mobile healthcare applications. The Whisper Mode Pairing feature can enable clinicians to efficiently access patient information with a smartphone or tablet by being in close proximity to medication packets or patient monitors. For example, nurses who are in proximity with their smartphones can verify that each patient receives the correct dosage and track who administered the medication and when. In addition, medical devices can easily transmit patient data via BLE to smartphones, tablets, or computer systems for monitoring by doctors and nurses.
OEMs looking to implement wireless solutions into their medical devices should not have to sacrifice security for quality wireless connections. Whisper Mode in addition to AES Encryption and Decryption functions enable the BL600 BLE modules to provide quality wireless connections with enhanced security and encryption. This ensures that consumers make trusted connections to the right device with ease and efficiency.
Laird provides access to the software download center to qualified OEMs at no charge. Simply visit Laird’s Support Portal for complete product information, video demonstrations, and links to all detailed technical documentation on the BL600 BLE radio module.
Click here to view the Release Notes for version 188.8.131.52 of the BL600 firmware.