NetWarden: Mitigating Network Covert Channels while Preserving Performance


Jiarong Xing, Qiao Kang, and Ang Chen, Rice University


Network covert channels are an advanced threat to the security of distributed systems. Existing defenses all come at the cost of performance, so they present significant barriers to a practical deployment in high-speed networks. We propose NetWarden, a novel defense whose key design goal is to preserve TCP performance while mitigating covert channels. The use of programmable data planes makes it possible for NetWarden to adapt defenses that were only demonstrated before as proof of concept, and apply them at linespeed. Moreover, NetWarden uses a set of performance boosting techniques to temporarily increase the performance of connections that have been affected by covert channel mitigation, with the ultimate goal of neutralizing the overall performance impact. NetWarden also uses a fastpath/slowpath architecture to combine the generality of software and the efficiency of hardware for effective defense. Our evaluation shows that NetWarden works smoothly with complex applications and workloads, and that it can mitigate covert timing and storage channels with little performance disturbance.

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@inproceedings {251540,
author = {Jiarong Xing and Qiao Kang and Ang Chen},
title = {{NetWarden}: Mitigating Network Covert Channels while Preserving Performance},
booktitle = {29th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 20)},
year = {2020},
isbn = {978-1-939133-17-5},
pages = {2039--2056},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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