Steganographic Timing Channels

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This paper describes steganographic timing channels that use cryptographic primitives to hide the presence of covert channels in the timing of network traffic. We have identified two key properties for steganographic timing channels: (1) the parameters of the scheme should be cryptographically keyed, and (2) the distribution of input timings should be indistinguishable from output timings. These properties are necessary (although we make no claim they are sufficient) for the undetectability of a steganographic timing channel. Without them, the contents of the channel can be read and observed by unauthorized persons, and the presence of the channel is trivially exposed by noticing large changes in timing distributions – a previously proposed methodology for covert channel detection. Our steganographic timing scheme meets the secrecy requirement by employing cryptographic keys, and we achieve a restricted form of input/output distribution parity. Under certain distributions, our schemes conforms to a uniformness property; input timings that are uniformly distributed modulo a timing window are indistinguishable from output timings, measured under the same modulo. We also demonstrate that our scheme is practical under real network conditions, and finally present an empirical study of its covertness using the firstorder entropy metric, as suggested by Gianvecchio and Wang [8], which is currently the best published practical detection heuristic for timing channels.

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University of Pennsylvania Department of Computer and Information Science Technical Report No. MS-CIS-11-18.
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