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The Scientific World Journal
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 969628, 14 pages
Research Article

A New Sensors-Based Covert Channel on Android

Department of Electrical, Electronic and Systems Engineering, National University of Malaysia (UKM), 43600 Bangi, Malaysia

Received 8 May 2014; Accepted 1 August 2014; Published 14 September 2014

Academic Editor: Alessandro Bogliolo

Copyright © 2014 Ahmed Al-Haiqi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Covert channels are not new in computing systems, and have been studied since their first definition four decades ago. New platforms invoke thorough investigations to assess their security. Now is the time for Android platform to analyze its security model, in particular the two key principles: process-isolation and the permissions system. Aside from all sorts of malware, one threat proved intractable by current protection solutions, that is, collusion attacks involving two applications communicating over covert channels. Still no universal solution can countermeasure this sort of attack unless the covert channels are known. This paper is an attempt to reveal a new covert channel, not only being specific to smartphones, but also exploiting an unusual resource as a vehicle to carry covert information: sensors data. Accelerometers generate signals that reflect user motions, and malware applications can apparently only read their data. However, if the vibration motor on the device is used properly, programmatically produced vibration patterns can encode stolen data and hence an application can cause discernible effects on acceleration data to be received and decoded by another application. Our evaluations confirmed a real threat where strings of tens of characters could be transmitted errorless if the throughput is reduced to around 2.5–5 bps. The proposed covert channel is very stealthy as no unusual permissions are required and there is no explicit communication between the colluding applications.