A survey of timing channels and countermeasures

Biswas, Arnab Kumar and Ghosal, Dipak and Nagaraja, Shishir (2017) A survey of timing channels and countermeasures. ACM Computing Surveys, 50 (1). 6. ISSN 1557-7341 (https://doi.org/10.1145/3023872)

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A timing channel is a communication channel that can transfer information to a receiver/decoder by modulating the timing behavior of an entity. Examples of this entity include the interpacket delays of a packet stream, the reordering packets in a packet stream, or the resource access time of a cryptographic module. Advances in the information and coding theory and the availability of high-performance computing systems interconnected by high-speed networks have spurred interest in and development of various types of timing channels. With the emergence of complex timing channels, novel detection and prevention techniques are also being developed to counter them. In this article, we provide a detailed survey of timing channels broadly categorized into network timing channel, in which communicating entities are connected by a network, and in-system timing channel, in which the communicating entities are within a computing system. This survey builds on the last comprehensive survey by Zander et al. [2007] and considers all three canonical applications of timing channels, namely, covert communication, timing side channel, and network flow watermarking. We survey the theoretical foundations, the implementation, and the various detection and prevention techniques that have been reported in literature. Based on the analysis of the current literature, we discuss potential future research directions both in the design and application of timing channels and their detection and prevention techniques.