Behavioral Mimicry Covert Communication
Ahmadzadeh, Seyed Ali
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Covert communication refers to the process of communicating data through a channel that is neither designed, nor intended to transfer information. Traditionally, covert channels are considered as security threats in computer systems and a great deal of attention has been given to countermeasures for covert communication schemes. The evolution of computer networks led the communication community to revisit the concept of covert communication not only as a security threat but also as an alternative way of providing security and privacy to communication networks. In fact, the heterogeneous structure of computer networks and the diversity of communication protocols provide an appealing setting for covert channels. This dissertation is an exploration on a novel design methodology for undetectable and robust covert channels in communication networks. Our new design methodology is based on the concept of behavioral mimicry in computer systems. The objective is to design a covert transmitter that has enough degrees of freedom to behave like an ordinary transmitter and react normally to unpredictable network events, yet it has the ability to modulate a covert message over its behavioral fingerprints in the network. To this end, we argue that the inherent randomness in communication protocols and network environments is the key in finding the proper medium for network covert channels. We present a few examples on how random behaviors in communication protocols lead to discovery of suitable shared resources for covert channels. The proposed design methodology is tested on two new covert communication schemes, one is designed for wireless networks and the other one is optimized for public communication networks (e.g., Internet). Each design is accompanied by a comprehensive analysis from undetectability, achievable covert rate and reliability perspectives. In particular, we introduced turbo covert channels, a family of extremely robust model-based timing covert channels that achieve provable polynomial undetectability in public communication networks. This means that the covert channel is undetectable against any polynomial-time statistical test that analyzes samples of the covert traffic and the legitimate traffic of the network. Target applications for the proposed covert communication schemes are discussed including detailed practical scenarios in which the proposed channels can be implemented.