Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) 2022

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DF-SCA: Dynamic Frequency Side Channel Attacks are Practical

The arm race between hardware security engineers and side-channel researchers has become more competitive with more sophisticated attacks and defenses in the last decade. While modern hardware features improve the system performance significantly, they may create new attack surfaces for malicious people to extract sensitive information about users without physical access to the victim device. Although many previously exploited hardware and OS features were patched by OS developers and chip vendors, any feature that is accessible from userspace applications can be exploited to perform software-based side-channel attacks.

In this paper, we present DF-SCA, which is a software-based dynamic frequency side-channel attack on Linux and Android OS devices. We exploit unprivileged access to cpufreq interface that exposes real-time CPU core frequency values directly correlated with the system utilization, creating a reliable side-channel for attackers. We show that Dynamic Voltage and Frequency Scaling (DVFS) feature in modern systems can be utilized to perform website fingerprinting attacks for Google Chrome and Tor browsers on modern Intel, AMD, and ARM architectures. We further extend our analysis to a wide selection of scaling governors on Intel and AMD CPUs, verifying that all scaling governors provide enough information on the visited web page. Moreover, we extract properties of keystroke patterns on frequency readings, that leads to 95% accuracy to distinguish the keystrokes from other activities on Android phones. We leverage inter-keystroke timings of a user by training a k-th nearest neighbor model, which achieves 88% password recovery rate in the first guess on Bank of America application. Finally, we propose several countermeasures to mask the user activity to mitigate DF-SCA on Linux-based systems.

Debopriya Roy Dipta
Iowa State University

Berk Gulmezoglu
Iowa State University

Paper (ACM DL)



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