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Thread: Covert channels are really a problem ! :S

  1. #1
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    Covert channels are really a problem ! :S

    Hello security folks

    I'm new to this forum and I hope to be a permanent member

    I'm working on a project where a detection system should be build to detect covert channels as many as the system can. I googled a lot about this topic and I found many research papers and some of them have very promising results.

    One of the solutions was to use SVM to detect IPID and ISN covert channels. Another solution was Snort. Also, there are many many other solutions such as statistical detection entropy detection and ,,, etc.. most are theoritical

    Here are my questions that I hope someone share with me the opinions:

    To build one system, is it better to use one detection technique like the SVM for most the covert channels or implement more than one approach in one system. If so, is it feasible?

    This is my first Covert Channel project and I'm not expert so :S

    I would appreciate a good response and some discussion

  2. #2
    WebProWorld MVP danlefree's Avatar
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    Re: Covert channels are really a problem ! :S

    That sounds like a very interesting project - I can't say that I know much about covert channels, though it sounds as though you will need to be able to analyze all incoming and outgoing TCP/IP packets to comprehensively determine whether a given packet is being routed as part of expected activity (i.e. a communication between a trusted client and a trusted host).

    Seems as though the primary warnings would be packets routing to or from unknown hosts/hosts which the client did not appear to initiate a connection to (but that assumes you're not attempting stateful packet inspection to determine whether steganography is being applied to the packet payload).

    It may help to know how deeply your system will need to inspect traffic (i.e. are you looking for hacked hardware, hacked operating systems, malicious users operating within protocols like HTTP?), how many machines will be on the network, whether your system will sample or continuously collect data, and what level of outside access the network allows.

    The only application I can think of off-hand for covert channel detection would be military-grade security (though perhaps some corporations are starting to wise up).
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    WebProWorld MVP wige's Avatar
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    Re: Covert channels are really a problem ! :S

    Covert channels go beyond simply checking the routing of a packet - with a covert channel, the packet is going where it should, but it contains information it shouldn't. Let me give a real world example:

    A text file that is encoded in UTF-8 contains 8-bit characters. The letter A would be represented as follows: |01000001|

    A text file that is encoded in UTF-16 stores characters in two 8-bit bytes. The letter A is represented as: |01000001|00000000| In a text file containing ASCII characters, the second byte reserved for each character is simply left blank.

    Lets say a terrorist organization needs to distribute data to various cells. They create a UTF-16 document using ASCII characters, but encode a secret message in the second or lower byte of each character. They then upload the text file to a website and make it downloadable. Now, anyone can download the file, but only the users who know there is a hidden message and have a certain degree of expertise would be able to read it. Doing a forensic analysis following an attack or the capture of a cell, you have no way to know who was just downloading the file for the public information, and who was a terrorist downloading the file for the hiddden data.

    Note, in this example, the file size stays the same - the hidden data is virtually undetectable. This is what makes it a covert channel - you are hiding data within another connection. I also overly simplified a few aspects - following the steps I mention should actually result in a garbled file.
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    WebProWorld MVP danlefree's Avatar
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    Re: Covert channels are really a problem ! :S

    Quote Originally Posted by wige View Post
    Covert channels go beyond simply checking the routing of a packet
    Right - and the concerns you mentioned describe user-level steganography.

    Most of the papers I found which concerned covert channel communications focused on the introduction of compromised hardware or a compromised operating system which was effectively attempting to "phone home" with information gleaned from a secured network. Figuring out where the information is heading and preventing it from reaching its destination is a primary concern if you are dealing with compromised hardware or software (but not with compromised people).

    The exfiltration of data assumed to be secure appears to be a primary concern of covert channel analysis on a secured network; if you have terrorists hiding messages with steganography on your secured network, you have much bigger problems than a compromised machine or OS - thence the question of what type covert channels Mouza seeks to expose.
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  5. #5
    WebProWorld MVP wige's Avatar
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    Re: Covert channels are really a problem ! :S

    Hm... that reminds me of an old attack, which I didn't think of in association with covert channels. This attack replaced the randomly generated 64-bit payload of ping packets with the target data, and sent the ping to a compromised server, in groups of four. As I recall the only way this would have been detected is if the operator of the ping utility was identified and checked - ping should only ever be run by cmd.exe, whereas in this case it was being executed by a malicious application.

    Programmatically, it would be literally impossible to detect this compromise unless the security software is running on the attacked machine to link the user to the operation.
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    Re: Covert channels are really a problem ! :S

    Hey all,

    Thanks for all for the reply. The reason I was away is that I decided to change my solution approach. However, I think that snort is the best solution to detect covert channels.

    Snort provides one or two rules that can help in detecting ICMP payload covert channels. This is one example. Another example is to detect the "Dont Fragment" bit covert channel and so on. These are simple examples. However, snort doesn't provide such rules and one needs to write them customized.

    In addition, there are some smart covert channels that are very difficult to detect like the ISN covert channel and timing covert channels.

    I feel like lost!! the covert channels are soooo many and I don't know how to minimize the scope! Should I focus on storage covert channels only?

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