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Radio Frequency (RF) communication plays a vital role for sensor node data transmission, which typically runs on top of lightweight protocol such as Constrained Application (CoAP) and Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP). Introducing a cryptographic scheme to the process is known to be the common and most efficient method to protect RF communication. This paper presents the performance comparison of AES-encrypted data transmission over RF communication via Raspberry Pi boards, experimented on a client-server architecture. The performance analysis is measured based on throughput metric and the transmission time delay when sending three types of payload which are, a plaintext data, a ciphertext with padding and a ciphertext without padding. The result from the study indicates that there is a significant difference in data transmission time between the three types of data due to the data expansion factor. The result also showed that adding padding to the ciphertext has increased the data size slightly but not significant enough to affect transmission time of ciphertext.
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International Journal of Engineering & Technology, 7 (4.11) (2018) 217-222
International Journal of Engineering & Technology
Research paper
Securing RF Communication Using AES-256 Symmetric
Encryption: a Performance Evaluation
A. Jamaluddin*, N. N. Mohamed, H. Hashim
Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Universiti Teknologi MARA, 40450 Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia
*Corresponding author E-mail:
Radio Frequency (RF) communication plays a vital role for sensor node data transmission, which typically runs on top of lightweight
protocol such as Constrained Application (CoAP) and Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP). Introducing a cryptographic scheme to the
process is known to be the common and most efficient method to protect RF communication. This paper presents the performance com-
parison of AES-encrypted data transmission over RF communication via Raspberry Pi boards, experimented on a client-server architec-
ture. The performance analysis is measured based on throughput metric and the transmission time delay when sending three types of
payload which are, a plaintext data, a ciphertext with padding and a ciphertext without padding. The result from the study indicates that
there is a significant difference in data transmission time between the three types of data due to the data expansion factor. The result also
showed that adding padding to the ciphertext has increased the data size slightly but not significant enough to affect transmission time of
Keywords: cryptography; symmetric encryption; Advanced Encryption Standard; Raspberry Pi; RF Communication; Slice of Radio.
1. Introduction
Today, internet is migrating from connecting people to connecting
things, leading to the new concept of Internet of Things (IoT). One
of the most efficient wireless communication for IoT sensor nodes
is via Radio Frequency (RF), typically run on top of CoAP and
TFTP protocols which provide zero security mechanism [1]. A
popular method to protect the sensor node data transmission over
RF in a more secure way is by implementing the cryptographic
algorithms [2]. Cryptographic algorithms are ranked by their
speed in encrypting/decrypting data and their robustness to with-
stand attacks. Hence, real-time processing of data encryp-
tion/decryption is essential in network based applications such as
IoT to keep pace with the input data inhalation rate. Cryptographic
algorithms are broadly generalized as symmetric and asymmetric
encryption. The idea of including cryptography in IoT as one of
the security methods is a transpiring arena. It plays its important
character in protecting any sorts of communication and gives the
well enhanced provision to offer the requisite shield against the
data intruders as well as attacker.
Symmetric key cryptography is the algorithm that uses a secret or
private key to lock (encrypt) and unlock (decrypt) [3] the data in a
particular way between two or more parties. However, by having
the condition that both parties have access to the secret key is one
of the main disadvantage of this algorithm. This is because, by
using the same private key making it critical to keep the key secret
as the chances for the secret key to fall into the wrong hands over
a massive network is hugely high. Thus, asymmetric key cryptog-
raphy is introduced. If symmetric key cryptography allows only a
private key between two parties, asymmetric key cryptography
however allows a key pair consists of a public key and a private
key. The public key is made to give access to everyone, while the
private key maintains its function as confidential properties as
only allows the owner to access the data.
If time is the dominant factor in encrypting and decrypting a mes-
sage, then symmetric encryption is an ideal candidate as it com-
prises only one way factor of delivering and receiving. Reason is
that, asymmetric encryption systems have high overhead, in which
they are not usable to provide full-time in a practical real-world
security enhancement. Symmetric encryption too, is feasible and
adaptable as it can be implemented on various stages especially in
small embedded devices. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)
[4] in conclusion could be seen to be faster in terms of speed and
systematically efficient in terms of performance compared to other
encryption algorithms. Due to that, it is said to be suitable to en-
crypt the actual data and commands. Therefore, AES was chosen
as the standard algorithm in this experiment.
Recent advancement in embedded RF devices and sensor nodes
communication has increased significantly which normally inter-
connect to the internet using wireless technology (e.g. radio fre-
quency, Wi-Fi) and run on top of CoAP and TFTP protocols. In
many situations, the connection is exposed to vulnerability during
sensor node data transmission. The authors in [5-6] has proposed
data encryption using ElGamal and RSA asymmetric schemes
through RF transmission to strengthen the protocol security. The
works provided alternate solution for various stakeholders to exe-
cute a rapid product research and development of any crypto-
graphic protocol for smart devices. This previous work has be-
come our motivation to further the research study in RF technolo-
gy with three ultimate aims in order to improve the data security
using encryption schemes to be implemented on IoT embedded
devices. The first objective is to study the encryption method to be
integrated into RF client-server communication. Next is, to pro-
vide a security solution using symmetric encryption method that
will satisfy the minimal requirement for a reliable RF transmission
in IoT technology. Lastly is, to analyze performance when sending
the unencrypted (plaintext) and encrypted (ciphertext) data using
AES algorithm through RF transmission in terms of transmission
time and data transmission throughput.
To rapidly build and test the AES algorithm without major chang-
es in the RF transmission software code, a flexible RF transceiver
is needed. Slice of Radio (SRF B023) wireless RF transceiver has
the capability to be the most feasible device that could reconfigure
AES algorithm in RF data transmission. The Slice of Radio brings
secure wireless data transmission to embedded device such as
Raspberry Pi in a simple and low cost package. The transceiver is
attached together on two Raspberry Pi Arm processor boards,
implementing python source code to execute the program. The
proposed work comprises of a persuasive argument that it could
make a noteworthy contribution on a topic that is important to the
development of IoT embedded devices, particularly in enhancing
the security of the data uploaded using a low budget devices.
2. Related Works
In the present era, not only business but almost all the aspects of
human life are driven by information. Securing the data to be up-
loaded to the Internet has been a prerequisite thing to do before
transmitting it, especially in a wireless environment. However,
current practices show that there are preponderances of data that
remained unsecured, mostly due to the fact that security features
are not built into products or users are disregarding them. This
leads to the unauthorized access to the information by many false
hands. For instance, the implementation of large sized protocol
such as Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security
(TLS) deteriorate the efficiency and performance of the security
on the data that it may be compromised by brute force. Based on
review findings, in order to achieve confidentiality and integrity of
security properties, it is crucial to decide the suitable security
mechanism for this work. Therefore, the study of encryption
method [7] is done to support the practicality of the protocol on a
low cost module. The Raspberry Pi microcomputer board [8] and
its Slice of Radio RF transceiver is chosen as a perfect module due
to its low power consumption and promotes a rapid result in the
In the aspect of speed and as well as level of security, symmetric
encryption scheme were given due importance [9] and thus was
selected as a general protocol to be used in this work. In particular,
the AES encryption scheme was selected. There are two factors
identified which contribute to the selection of encryption algo-
rithm. Within a limited CPU and memory storage, the first factor
greatly depends on the speed. It has to be fast and facile to be
implemented on both software and hardware. The second one is
that it must be powerful with no collision found in the algorithm.
Compared to another symmetric block cipher such as DES and
3DES, AES works faster even in small devices such as on mobile
phone and smart card [9-10]. Besides, data size expansion analysis
is also included to analyze the effect of the transmission time on
the variable size of the file. Thus, the transmission of plaintext is
first tested followed by ciphertext and measured afterwards.
In the cryptography family, AES belongs to the category of block
ciphers. A block cipher is an algorithm that encrypts data per-
block basis. This is in contrast to stream ciphers which are based
on generating a “perpetual” cryptographic key stream and using
that to encrypt one bit or byte at a time. As such, block ciphers
work on a larger data at a time. In terms of speed, stream ciphers
is basically faster than block ciphers as the blocks need to work on
a larger data and require more CPU cycles [11]. Even so, the scru-
tinization of this experiment is to ascertain whether it is possible
to provide a security solution that will satisfy the minimal re-
quirement for a reliable RF transmission to be applied in IoT tech-
nology. In this case, we have chosen to perform the encryption
process in block-oriented encryption mode because it provides the
integrity protection and authentication as well as its capability of
bulk encryption of known size data which we are assuming in this
The size of each block is measured in bits. If it is 256 bits long,
then AES will operates on 256 bits of plaintext to produce 256 bits
of ciphertext [4]. The keys supported by AES comprises of three
different lengths which is 128 bits, 192 bits and 256 bits key. The
strength of the security is measured by the length of the keys
which wins 256 bits key all the way round. However, to provide a
full strength of security in this experiment, 128 bits of key is not
strong to prove the security of the data in the developed system.
This leads to the decision of using AES 256 bits key (32 bytes) to
provide the best stronghold of security for the data encrypted.
3. Methodology
To find a suitable device to be used in energy constricted envi-
ronment could be challenging and time costing. In this work, the
Raspberry Pi Arm Boards Version 3 have been selected to be de-
ployed for reason that it is highly supported by researchers and
commonly applied in similar applications. It has also been selected
due to its compatibility in terms of size and performance. It is
small in size, but it has the capability equivalent to a computer.
Therefore, it is manageable to handle and execute the Python Lan-
guage on it. The microprocessor has a number of input and output
(I/O) ports including USB port, HDMI, Micro USB power and SD
card interface (to install Raspbian, the standard Raspberry Pi oper-
ating system).
Under the requirement of energy constricted environment, a low
power consumption device is needed to carry out the transmission.
To form the secure transmission for Raspberry Pi over RF, the
Slice of Radio device is connected to the device. It is very easy to
use because it sends and receives via the standard onboard PI seri-
al port, which means special software or drivers would not be
needed. The experiment can be executed when the serial port is
configured accordingly. Figure 1 shows the closed-up look of
Slice of Radio (SRF B023).
Fig. 1: Slice of Radio (SRF B023)
The workflow to test the communication is shown in Figure 2.
The SRF must be attached on both Raspberry Pi ARM boards and
the Raspbian Linux Operating System was installed on both de-
vices to execute the program. Then, the SRF USB Radio is
plugged in GPIO header and new serial port is identified. Before
powering up, the devices should be connected with a mouse, key-
board and a display. It is important to make sure that RF modules
are configured with 115200 bps as baud rate.
International Journal of Engineering & Technology
Fig. 2: Flowchart of the communication test using Slice of Radio
Figure 3 shows a client-server test bed set up using two Raspberry
Pi Arm boards V3 devices. The experiment was conducted in the
laboratory where the two Raspberry Pi Arm boards were placed at
a distance of approximately one meter apart. Both devices were
associated with the keyboard and mouse to execute the program
and a monitor connected to HDMI port respectively to display the
program. For power adapter, the micro USB Power Supply which
provides at least 700 mA at 5V is important. In this work, the PC
power supply was used to power up the devices. The workstation
comprised of a client-server infrastructure communicates via RF
using the Slices of Radio on each Raspberry Pi respectively.
Fig. 3: Client-Server test bed set up
RF (Radio Frequency) is able to transmit data on low power con-
sumption. Bound by the protocol of RF Communication Protocol
standard, the Slice of Radio held its performance based on the
theory of operation in three ways for this project.
Firstly, when the serial data is received on SRF, it goes into the
memory. Once the complete packets (payload) of data were pro-
duced, it would be sent out over the radio transmitter. By default,
the buffer size is 12 characters per payload. If longer data are said
to be send out, it will simply split it up in to smaller packets. For
example, as can be seen in Figure 4, the data is split in to 4 pack-
ets and each one is transmitted in turn.
See the quick brown fox jump over the lazy dogs
Fig. 4:. Packet structure
Secondly, the data will wait in the transmit buffer before being
sent. This process is called as timeout, which happens only when
the data sent were less than a packet. By default, the timeout is
100ms for SRF. Finally, to improve the performance and efficien-
cy, padding is the efficient option to fill the buffer for a better
performance, especially when the data comprises variable lengths.
For example as shown in Figure 5, by adding the padding option
(++), both packets will be sent immediately without timeout be-
cause of the completed characters per packet.
Mary had a little lamb++
Fig. 5: Packet with padding
4. Performance Evaluation
In this work we consider two types of transmitted data, which are
plaintext and ciphertext. Here, we take plaintext as to mean the
original unencrypted data, while ciphertext is the text produced
after the plaintext has been encrypted by AES algorithm. The
objective is to analyze the effect on data transmission time when
sending encrypted (ciphertext) data as opposed to the original data.
This section provides information on the performance metrics to
evaluate these two situations when sending the plaintext and ci-
phertext data transmitted via RF Communication. The metrics are
explained below.
4.1. Data Transmission Throughput
The throughput of data transmission defines how much data can
be transmitted in a given amount of time. From the result of exe-
cution time, the throughput of every data is calculated to indicate
the performance and transmission speed as in (1):
4.2. Transmission Time Difference when Sending
Plaintext and Ciphertext
The transmission time when sending both plaintext and ciphertext
via RF Communication are the method that has consumed majori-
ty of the time spent on this experiment. There obviously a differ-
ence in the transmission of both types of data respectively. The
difference is calculated using the equation below.
For plaintext and ciphertext:
Td is Time Difference
Tc is Transmission Time for Ciphertext
Tp is Transmission Time for Plaintext
For plaintext and ciphertext with padding:
Td is Time Difference
Tc is Transmission Time for Ciphertext with padding
Tp is Transmission Time for Plaintext
4.3 Data Expansion Rate
Due to the addition of padding to complete the 12 characters per
payload, the size of the data of ciphertext was actually predicted to
be expanded significantly per addition. The data expansion rate
could be measured using the two equations below:
a) For plaintext and ciphertext:
b) For plaintext and ciphertext with padding:
5. Results and Discussion
The output of the experiment can be summarized in Table 1 until
Table 5-6. In this experiment, the main aspect to be examined is
the increase in the time of transmission due to data expansion
factor from server to client. In methodology section, the quality is
measured based on the metrics of throughput of data transmission
and delay on transmission time between plaintext (T), ciphertext
(C) as well as ciphertext with padding (P). In this section, the
plaintext used are numbered from T1 to T10 where Cn is the ci-
phertext of Tn and Pn is the ciphertext with padding of Tn, for n =
1 to 10.
Table 1: Types of data and its respective sizes
Types of Data
Plaintext (T)
Ciphertext (C)
Ciphertext with Padding (P)
Data Size (KB)
1.504 KB
1.588 KB
Table 2: Transmission time for plaintext and ciphertext and the time difference
Data (T/C)
Plaintext Transmission Time (ms)
Ciphertext Transmission Time (ms)
Time Difference (ms)
The time difference is theoretically expected to be present in the
transmission of data especially when the data sizes of two types of
data are different to begin with. The assumption has indeed been
proven when the transmission time in Table 2-3 increased gradual-
ly for plaintext, ciphertext and ciphertext with padding labelled as
1 to 10 (T/C/P) proportional to the each data size.
Table 3: Transmission time for plaintext and ciphertext with padding and time difference
Data (T/P)
Plaintext Transmission Time (ms)
Ciphertext with Padding Transmission Time (ms)
Time Difference (ms)
Table 4:. Throughput of data transmission
Types of Data
Ciphertext with Padding
Throughput (KB/s)
Average (KB/s)
International Journal of Engineering & Technology
The throughputs for these types of data in Table 4 are calculated
by using the equation provided in methodology section. According
to rhetorical assumption made, the higher the throughput of data
transmission, the better the performance. For being directly sent
from server to client, ciphertext with padding has indeed proven to
have the highest throughput. Meanwhile, the lowest would be
ciphertext due to the incomplete characters per payload, creating
timeouts which causes delay that slowed the process of transmis-
sion. The problem then solved by adding padding to align the data
size and completed the characters per payload, so that delay would
be prevented.
Table 5: Data expansion factor
Data (T/C/P)
Data Expansion Factor between Ciphertext and Plaintext
Data Expansion Factor between Ciphertext with Padding and Plaintext
Instead of using rate in expansion data size, the unit is changed to
factor to act as an indicator for the increment or decrement on the
data size. In Table 5, there is a slight expansion of data size be-
tween ciphertext and plaintext. This is due to the encryption pro-
cess that used CBC mode of operation with 32 bits of key that
translated the plaintext into series of hex strings configuration,
which load the payload longer than the plaintext. The hex strings
however did not alter any data on plaintext.
In theory, AES does not expand the data, except for a few bytes of
padding at the end of the last block. This is to align the data to the
size of a block thus explaining the expansion in Table 5. Most
symmetric ciphers work on blocks of data considerably larger than
a single byte (AES-128, for example, works 16 bytes at a time).
Padding at the end of the data is important to fill and align the
incomplete block if the data is not a multiple of the block size. The
resulting data inherently are not compressible at any rate because
they are basically random; no dictionary-based algorithm is able to
effectively compress them.
Fig. 6: Comparison of Transmission Time between Plaintext (T), Cipher-
text (C) and Ciphertext with Padding (P)
As seen in Figure 6, it can be concluded that the transmission time
increased gradually for all types of data due to increased payload.
As the characters increased per payload, the transmission time for
the three types of data too, was increased. From the result, we can
see how the two types of encrypted data affects transmission time
by comparing their performances to that of the plaintext transmis-
sion. This is because for plaintext, 12 characters per payload were
directly being sent from server to client. The transmission time for
ciphertext with padding was expected to be faster than the trans-
mission time of ciphertext without padding. This is due to the
ciphertext payload that has been sent, which was less than a de-
fault 12 characters per packet length incurred some delay as the
packet needed to be stored at the buffer temporarily for 100 ms or
more. This action is called as timeout as explain in methodology
section. The data was finally received at the client, but with a re-
dundant time delay. Hence, ciphertext with padding which allow
stuffing at the end of the data to fill the last block to complete the
payload, transmission time is comparatively faster than ciphertext
6. Conclusion
This paper presents the performance evaluation of data transmis-
sion when sending three types of data: the plaintext, the cipher text
without padding and ciphertext with padding over RF. Based on
the result presented in Table 2-3, ciphertext with padding trans-
mission performed best in term of transmission time which can
reduce 7.92% time over the ciphertext without padding transmis-
sion. This may come from the fact that padding technique can
prevent the delay and timeout in the transmission [8]. Besides, the
transmission time when sending ciphertext with padding has pro-
duced average delay of 5.5825ms which is approximately two
times slower than the plaintext transmission. There are several
points can be concluded from the experiment results. In conclu-
sion, encryption scheme has increased the transmission time over
RF. By adding padding on the ciphertext can reduce the delay
In future work, it would be interesting to study a broader metrics
other than the transmission time and throughput performance met-
rics in a higher level of devices, so that its practicality could be
applied to a higher level, more so to industries.
This project was made possible by funds from Malaysian National
Research Grant Scheme (NRGS) 600-RMI/NRGS 5/3 (5/2013)
from the Ministry of Education, Malaysia.
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Announcing the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)
  • F Information
F. Information. Announcing the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). 2001.
Simulation of RSA and ElGamal encryption schemes using RF simulator
  • M A M Isa
  • K S A Rahman
  • M H Muhamad
  • H Hashim
Adnan S. F. S, Isa M. A. M, Rahman K. S. A, Muhamad M. H and Hashim H. Simulation of RSA and ElGamal encryption schemes using RF simulator. Proceedings of the IEEE Symp. Comput. Appl. Ind. Electron., 2015, pp. 124-128.
RF simulator for cryptographic protocol
  • M A M Isa
  • Hashim H Manan
  • Adnan S F Mahmod
Isa M. A. M, Hashim H, Manan J. L. A, Adnan S. F. S and Mahmod R. RF simulator for cryptographic protocol. Proceedings of the IEEE Int. Conf. Control Syst. Comput. Eng., 2014, pp. 518-523.