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[Colloqiuum] Application-Level Reconnaissance: Timing Channel Attacks Against Antivirus Software

March 8, 2011

Watch Colloquium: 

M4V file (303 MB)

  • Date: Tuessday, March 8, 2011 
  • Time: 11:00 am — 11:50 am 
  • Place: Mechanical Engineering 218

Mohammed Al-Saleh
UNM Department of Computer Science
PhD Graduate Student

Remote attackers use network reconnaissance techniques, such as port scanning, to gain information about a victim machine and then use this information to launch an attack. Current network reconnaissance techniques, that are typically below the application layer, are limited in the sense that they can only give basic information, such as what services a victim is running. Furthermore, modern remote exploits typically come from a server and attack a client that has connected to it, rather than the attacker connecting directly to the victim. In this paper, we raise this question and answer it: Can the attacker go beyond the traditional techniques of network reconnaissance and gain high-level, detailed information?

We investigate remote timing channel attacks against ClamAV antivirus and show that it is possible, with high accuracy, for the remote attacker to check how up-to-date the victim.s antivirus signature database is. Because the strings the attacker uses to do this are benign (i.e., they do not trigger the antivirus) and the attack can be accomplished through many different APIs, the attacker has a large amount of flexibility in hiding the attack.

Bio: Mohammed Al-Saleh is from Jordan. He received his Bachelor degree from Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST) Computer Science Dept. in 2003. He then worked as a Research Assistant for 2 years. He came to the US in August 2005 to continue his studies and completed his Master degree in computer science from New Mexico State University (NMSU) in summer 2007. He started his PhD program at NMSU but decided to transfer to the University of New Mexico (UNM). His advisor is Jed Crandall.