Wireless Physical Layer Security: On the Performance Limit of Secret-Key Agreement

  • Marwen Zorgui

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Physical layer security (PLS) is a new paradigm aiming at securing communications between legitimate parties at the physical layer. Conventionally, achieving confidentiality in communication networks relies on cryptographic techniques such as public-key cryptography, secret-key distribution and symmetric encryption. Such techniques are deemed secure based on the assumption of limited computational abilities of a wiretapper. Given the relentless progress in computational capacities and the dynamic topology and proliferation of modern wireless networks, the relevance of the previous techniques in securing communications is more and more questionable and less and less reliable. In contrast to this paradigm, PLS does not assume a specific computational power at any eavesdropper, its premise to guarantee provable security via employing channel coding techniques at the physical layer exploiting the inherent randomness in most communication systems. In this dissertation, we investigate a particular aspect of PLS, which is secret-key agreement, also known as secret-sharing. In this setup, two legitimate parties try to distill a secret-key via the observation of correlated signals through a noisy wireless channel, in the presence of an eavesdropper who must be kept ignorant of the secret-key. Additionally, a noiseless public channel is made available to the legitimate parties to exchange public messages that are also accessible to the eavesdropper. Recall that key agreement is an important aspect toward realizing secure communications in the sense that the key can be used in a one-time pad scheme to send the confidential message. In the first part, our focus is on secret-sharing over Rayleigh fading quasi-static channels. We study the fundamental relationship relating the probability of error and a given target secret-key rate in the high power regime. This is characterized through the diversity multiplexing tradeoff (DMT) concept, that we define for our model and then characterize it. We show that the impact of the secrecy constraint is to reduce the effective number of transmit antennas by the number of antennas at the eavesdropper. Toward this characterization, we provide several schemes achieving the DMT and we highlight disparities between coding for the wiretap channel and coding for secret-key agreement. In the second part of the present work, we consider a fast-fading setting in which the wireless channels change during each channel use. We consider a correlated environment where transmit, legitimate receiver and eavesdropper antennas are correlated. We characterize the optimal strategy achieving the highest secret-key rate. We also identify the impact of correlation matrices and illustrate our analysis with various numerical results. Finally, we study the system from an energy-efficiency point of view and evaluate relevant metrics as the minimum energy required for sharing a secret-key bit and the wideband slope.
Date of AwardMay 2015
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Science and Engineering
SupervisorMohamed-Slim Alouini (Supervisor)


  • Secret-key
  • Diversity-Multiplexing Tradeoff
  • Spatial Correlation
  • Physical Layer Security

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