Conference paper Open Access

On the Capacity of Thermal Covert Channels in Multicores

Bartolini, Davide B.; Miedl, Philipp; Thiele, Lothar

Modern multicore processors feature easily accessible temperature sensors that provide useful information for dynamic thermal management. These sensors were recently shown to be a potential security threat, since otherwise isolated applications can exploit them to establish a thermal covert channel and leak restricted information. Previous research showed experiments that document the feasibility of (lowrate) communication over this channel, but did not further analyze its fundamental characteristics. For this reason, the important questions of quantifying the channel capacity and achievable rates remain unanswered. To address these questions, we devise and exploit a new methodology that leverages both theoretical results from information theory and experimental data to study these thermal covert channels on modern multicores. We use spectral techniques to analyze data from two representative platforms and estimate the capacity of the channels from a source application to temperature sensors on the same or different cores. We estimate the capacity to be in the order of 300bits per second (bps) for the same-core channel, i.e., when reading the temperature on the same core where the source application runs, and in the order of 50bps for the 1hop channel, i.e., when reading the temperature of the core physically next to the one where the source application runs. Moreover, we show a communication scheme that achieves rates of more than 45bps on the same-core channel and more than 5bps on the 1-hop channel, with less than 1% error probability. The highest rate shown in previous work was 1.33bps on the 1-hop channel with 11% error probability.

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