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On Covert Acoustical Mesh Networks in Air

Michael Hanspach and Michael Goetz
Fraunhofer FKIE, Wachtberg, Germany

Abstract—Covert channels can be used to circumvent system and network policies by establishing communications that have not been considered in the design of the computing system. We construct a covert channel between different computing systems that utilizes audio modulation/demodulation to exchange data between the computing systems over the air medium. The underlying network stack is based on a communication system that was originally designed for robust underwater communication. We adapt the communication system to implement covert and stealthy communications by utilizing the near ultrasonic frequency range. We further demonstrate how the scenario of covert acoustical communication over the air medium can be extended to multi-hop communications and even to wireless mesh networks. A covert acoustical mesh network can be conceived as a botnet or malnet that is accessible via nearfield audio communications. Different applications of covert acoustical mesh networks are presented, including the use for remote keylogging over multiple hops. It is shown that the concept of a covert acoustical mesh network renders many conventional security concepts useless, as acoustical communications are usually not considered. Finally, countermeasures against covert acoustical mesh networks are discussed, including the use of lowpass filtering in computing systems and a host-based intrusion detection system for analyzing audio input and output in order to detect any irregularities.

Index Terms—malware, network covert channels, wireless mesh networks, ultrasonic communication

Cite: Michael Hanspach and Michael Goetz, "On Covert Acoustical Mesh Networks in Air," Journal of Communications, vol. 8, no. 11, pp. 758-767, 2013. doi: 10.12720/jcm.8.11.758-767