A group of researchers say they can extract information from an Amazon Web Services virtual machine by probing the cache of a CPU it shares with other cloudy VMs.
A paper titled Hello from the Other Side: SSH over Robust Cache Covert Channels in the Cloud (PDF) explains the challenges of extracting data from CPU cache, a very contested resource in which the OS, the hypervisor and applications all conduct frequent operations. All that activity makes a lot of noise, defying attempts to create a persistent communications channel.
Until now, as the researchers claim they’ve built “a high-throughput covert channel [that] can sustain transmission rates of more than 45 KBps on Amazon EC2”. They’ve even encrypted it: the technique establishes a TCP network within the cache and transmits data using SSH.
The results sound scarily impressive: a Black Hat Asia session detailing their work promised to peer into a host’s cache and stream video from VM to VM.
The paper explains that this stuff is not entirely new, but has hitherto also not been entirely successful because it’s been assumed that “error-correcting code can be directly applied, and the assumption that noise effectively eliminates covert channels.”