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Data aggregation in wireless sensor networks eliminates data redundancy, thereby improving bandwidth usage and energy utilization. The paper presents a secure data aggregation protocol, called SRDA (secure reference-based data aggregation), for wireless sensor networks. In order to reduce the number of bits transmitted, sensor nodes compare their raw sensed data value with their reference data value and then transfer only the difference data. In addition to reducing the number of transmitted bits, SRDA also establishes secure connectivity among sensor nodes without any online key distribution. The security level of the communication links is gradually increased as packets are transmitted at higher level cluster-heads, since intercepting a packet at higher levels of the clustering hierarchy provides a summary of a large number of transmissions at lower levels. Simulation results show that the proposed protocol yields significant savings in energy consumption while preserving data security.