The intelligent reflecting surface (IRS) is a promising new paradigm in
wireless communications for meeting the growing connectivity demands in
next-generation mobile networks. IRS, also known as software-controlled
metasurfaces, consist of an array of adjustable radio wave reflectors, enabling
smart radio environments, e.g., for enhancing the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR)
and spatial diversity of wireless channels. Research on IRS to date has been
largely focused on constructive applications. In this work, we demonstrate for
the first time that the IRS provides a practical low-cost toolkit for attackers
to easily perform complex signal manipulation attacks on the physical layer in
real time. We introduce the environment reconfiguration attack (ERA) as a novel
class of jamming attacks in wireless radio networks. Here, an adversary
leverages the IRS to rapidly vary the electromagnetic propagation environment
to disturb legitimate receivers. The IRS gives the adversary a key advantage
over traditional jamming: It no longer has to actively emit jamming signals,
instead the IRS reflects existing legitimate signals. In addition, the
adversary doesn’t need any knowledge about the legitimate channel. We
thoroughly investigate the ERA in wireless systems based on the widely employed
orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) modulation. We present
insights into the attack through analytical analysis, simulations, as well as
experiments. Our results show that the ERA allows to severely degrade the
available data rates even with reasonably small IRS sizes. Finally, we
implement an attacker setup and demonstrate a practical ERA to slow down an
entire Wi-Fi network.

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