Thomas Wilhelm, Sr. Security Consultant at Trustwave SpiderLabs, revealed a proof of concept this weekend at the DefCon 19 conference that demonstrated how ad hoc networks could be created using smart phones. These ad hoc networks could provide a method for citizens - impacted by natural or man-made disasters - to communicate with emergency responders without the use of telecommunication infrastructures.
In times of emergencies, cellular and phone systems are often destroyed or severely damaged, which prevents civilians from communicating with fire, police, or medical services. By creating broadcast, ad hoc networks using smart phones, it is possible to allow messages requesting help to pass between phones until they are intercepted by emergency services. To facilitate the communication between smart phones, Thomas decided to create an open source project called "Auto-BAHN" (Automated Broadcast Ad Hoc Network), which uses an application that can be quickly installed on smart phones.
Once cellular infrastructures are taken off-line for whatever reason, the Auto-BAHN software can reach out to other phones, installed with the same software, to pass messages between each other, including calls for help. Because of the inherent design of broadcast networks, all messages find the shortest path to their intended target, allowing responders to act accordingly in a timely manner.
The proof of concept presented by Thomas at DefCon will be developed for multiple platforms, including Android, iPhones and Blackberry phones. The long range goal of the Auto-BAHN project is to encourage Operating System developers of smart phone technologies to deploy Auto-BAHN on all systems; thus ensuring wide deployment of an alternative method of communication during disasters.