Combating Adversarial Covert Channels in Wi-Fi Networks

Hoorin Park, Wonwoo Jang, Jekyung Sung, Heejun Roh, Wonjun Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Physical layer covert channels exploit the characteristics of radio signals to convey secret messages while remaining inconspicuous within wireless channels. With specifically designed modulation schemes, covert channels effectively disguise secret messages as noise. Since the intentionally embedded noise dissipates when the radio signal is decoded as a bitstream, adversaries can maintain a stealthy breach in communication systems. IoT devices, particularly, often utilize vendor-specific firmware and hardware whose security verification is too complex for everyday users. Hence, these devices can easily be compromised to transmit their data to unauthorized adversaries via the covert channels. To this end, we propose a novel countermeasure system, Ghost-Fi Detector, which detects the covert channels reliably and comprehensively. Our attack models reflect a real-world wireless network technology, Wi-Fi, and cover three aspects of its radio signal characteristics including amplitude, phase, and frequency. Since each model induces distinct manifestations in the received signal, there is no dominant universal detection mechanism that detects all the attack models simultaneously. Instead, Ghost-Fi detector consists of six precisely designed complementary defense mechanisms that perform passive radio-frequency analyses. Evaluation results show that Ghost-Fi Detector achieves an average hit rate of 95% with an almost zero false-positive rate for arbitrary Wi-Fi frames.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89944-89958
Number of pages15
JournalIEEE Access
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Korean Government (Ministry of Science and ICT) under Grant 2019R1A2C2088812 and Grant 2022R1G1A1007263, in part by the Korea University, and in part by the Research Grant from Seoul Women's University under Grant 2021-0385.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2013 IEEE.


  • Covert channel detection system
  • modulation-based covert channel
  • Wi-Fi network
  • wireless network security

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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