Covert channels enable stealthy communications over innocent appearing carriers. They are increasingly applied in the network context. However, little work is available that exploits cryptographic primitives in the networking context to establish such covert communications. We present a covert channel between two devices where one device authenticates itself with Lamport’s one-time passwords based on a cryptographic hash function. Our channel enables plausible deniability jointly with reversibility and is applicable in different contexts, such as traditional TCP/IP networks, CPS/IoT communication, blockchain-driven systems and local inter-process communications that apply hash chains. We also present countermeasures to detect the presence of such a covert channel, which are non-trivial because hash values are random-looking binary strings, so that deviations are not likely to be detected. We report on experimental results with MD5 and SHA-3 hash functions for two covert channel variants running in a localhost setup. In particular, we evaluate the channels’ time performance, conduct statistical tests using the NIST suite and run a test for matching hash values between legitimate and covert environments to determine our channels’ stealthiness.
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