Frequency Scaling as a Security Threat on Multicore Systems

Philipp Miedl, Xiaoxi He, Matthias Meyer, Davide B. Bartolini, Lothar Thiele
Most modern processors use Dynamic Voltage and Frequency Scaling (DVFS) for power management. DVFS allows to optimize power consumption by scaling voltage and frequency depending on performance demand. Previous research has indicated that this frequency scaling might pose a security threat in the form of a covert channel, which could leak sensitive information. However, an analysis able to determine whether DVFS is a serious security issue is still missing. In this paper, we conduct a detailed
more » ... nalysis of the threat potential of a DVFS-based covert channel. We investigate two multicore platforms representative of modern laptops and hand-held devices. Furthermore, we develop a channel model to determine an upper bound to the channel capacity, which is in the order of 1 bit per channel use. Last, we perform an experimental analysis using a novel transceiver implementation. The neural network based receiver yields packet error rates between 1% and 8% at average throughputs of up to 1.83 and 1.20 bits per second for platforms representative of laptops and hand-held devices, respectively. Considering the well-known small message criterion, our results show that a relevant covert channel can be established by exploiting the behaviour of computing systems with DVFS.
doi:10.3929/ethz-b-000278307 fatcat:i6a53aotnjgwhpnerlsm7z35ge