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Hiding in Plain Sight? On the Efficacy of Power Side Channel-Based Control Flow Monitoring

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conference contribution
posted on 2023-11-29, 18:20 authored by Yi Han, Matthew Chan, Zahra Aref, Nils Ole TippenhauerNils Ole Tippenhauer, Saman Zonouz
Physical side-channel monitoring leverages the physical phenomena produced by a microcontroller (e.g. power con- sumption or electromagnetic radiation) to monitor program execution for malicious behavior. As such, it offers a promis- ing intrusion detection solution for resource-constrained em- bedded systems, which are incompatible with conventional security measures. This method is especially relevant in safety and security-critical embedded systems such as in industrial control systems. Side-channel monitoring poses unique chal- lenges for would-be attackers, such as: (1) limiting attack vectors by being physically isolated from the monitored sys- tem, (2) monitoring immutable physical side channels with uninterpretable data-driven models, and (3) being specifically trained for the architectures and programs on which they are applied to. As a result, physical side-channel monitors are conventionally believed to provide a high level of security. In this paper, we propose a novel attack to illustrate that, despite the many barriers to attack that side-channel moni- toring systems create, they are still vulnerable to adversarial attacks. We present a method for crafting functional malware such that, when injected into a side-channel-monitored sys- tem, the detector is not triggered. Our experiments reveal that this attack is robust across detector models and hardware im- plementations. We evaluate our attack on the popular ARM microcontroller platform on several representative programs, demonstrating the feasibility of such an attack and highlight- ing the need for further research into side-channel monitors.


Preferred Citation

Yi Han, Matthew Chan, Zahra Aref, Nils Tippenhauer and Saman Zonouz. Hiding in Plain Sight? On the Efficacy of Power Side Channel-Based Control Flow Monitoring. In: Usenix Security Symposium (USENIX-Security). 2022.

Primary Research Area

  • Secure Connected and Mobile Systems

Name of Conference

Usenix Security Symposium (USENIX-Security)

Legacy Posted Date


Open Access Type

  • Green


@inproceedings{cispa_all_3613, title = "Hiding in Plain Sight? On the Efficacy of Power Side Channel-Based Control Flow Monitoring", author = "Han, Yi and Chan, Matthew and Aref, Zahra and Tippenhauer, Nils Ole and Zonouz, Saman", booktitle="{Usenix Security Symposium (USENIX-Security)}", year="2022", }

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