Subliminal Channels in High-Speed Signatures

Alexander Hartl, Robert Annessi, Tanja Zseby
2018 Journal of Wireless Mobile Networks, Ubiquitous Computing, and Dependable Applications  
Subliminal channels in digital signatures can be used to secretly transmit information between two or more communication partners. If subliminal messages are embedded in standard signatures in network protocols, neither network operators nor legitimate receivers notice any suspicious activity. Subliminal channels already exist in older signatures, such as ElGamal and ECDSA. Nevertheless, in classical network protocols such signatures are used only sparsely, e.g., during authentication in the
more » ... tocol setup. Therefore, the overall potential subliminal bandwidth and their usability as carrier for hidden messages or information leakage is limited. However, with the advent of high-speed signatures such as EdDSA and MQ-based signatures such as PFlash or MQQ-SIG, scenarios such as signed broadcast clock synchronization or signed sensor data export become feasible. In those scenarios large sequences of packets are each individually signed and then transferred over the network. This increases the available bandwidth for transmitting subliminal information significantly and makes subliminal channels usable for large scale data exfiltration or even the operation of command and control structures. In this paper, we show the existence of subliminal channels in recent high-speed signatures and discuss the implications of the ability to hide information in a multitude of packets in different example scenarios: broadcast clock synchronization, signed sensor data export, and classical TLS. In a previous paper we already presented subliminal channels in the EdDSA signature scheme. We here extend this work by investigating subliminal channels in MQ signatures. We present specific results for existing MQ signatures but also show that whole classes of MQ-based methods for constructing signature schemes are prone to the existence of subliminal channels. We then discuss the applicability of different countermeasures against subliminal channels but conclude that none of the existing solutions can sufficiently protect against data exfiltration in network protocols secured by EdDSA or MQ signatures.
doi:10.22667/jowua.2018.03.31.030 dblp:journals/jowua/HartlAZ18 fatcat:5sfxajfr3vcctndei2fhw7fe6q