Hello from the Other Side: SSH over Robust Cache Covert Channels in the Cloud
Download: Paper (PDF)
Date: 27 Feb 2017
Document Type: Reports
Associated Event: NDSS Symposium 2017
Covert channels evade isolation mechanisms between multiple parties in the cloud. Especially cache covert channels allow the transmission of several hundred kilobits per second between unprivileged user programs in separate virtual machines. However, caches are small and shared and thus cache-based communication is susceptible to noise from any system activity and interrupts. The feasibility of a reliable cache covert channel under a severe noise scenario has not been demonstrated yet. Instead, previous work relies on either of the two contradicting assumptions: the assumption of direct applicability of error-correcting codes, or the assumption that noise effectively prevents covert channels.
In this paper, we show that both assumptions are wrong. First, error-correcting codes cannot be applied directly, due to the noise characteristics. Second, even with extraordinarily high system activity, we demonstrate an error-free and highthroughput covert channel. We provide the first comprehensive characterization of noise on cache covert channels due to cache activity and interrupts. We build the first robust covert channel based on established techniques from wireless transmission protocols, adapted for our use in microarchitectural attacks. Our errorcorrecting and error-handling high-throughput covert channel can sustain transmission rates of more than 45 KBps on Amazon EC2, which is 3 orders of magnitude higher than previous covert channels demonstrated on Amazon EC2. Our robust and errorfree channel even allows us to build an SSH connection between two virtual machines, where all existing covert channels fail.