Tao Ni, Shenzhen Research Institute, City University of Hong Kong, and Department of Computer Science, City University of Hong Kong; Guohao Lan, Department of Software Technology, Delft University of Technology; Jia Wang, College of Computer Science and Software Engineering, Shenzhen University; Qingchuan Zhao, Department of Computer Science, City University of Hong Kong; Weitao Xu, Shenzhen Research Institute, City University of Hong Kong, and Department of Computer Science, City University of Hong Kong
Radio-frequency (RF) energy harvesting is a promising technology for Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices to power sensors and prolong battery life. In this paper, we present a novel side-channel attack that leverages RF energy harvesting signals to eavesdrop mobile app activities. To demonstrate this novel attack, we propose AppListener, an automated attack framework that recognizes fine-grained mobile app activities from harvested RF energy. The RF energy is harvested from a custom-built RF energy harvester which generates voltage signals from ambient Wi-Fi transmissions, and app activities are recognized from a three-tier classification algorithm. We evaluate AppListener with four mobile devices running 40 common mobile apps (e.g., YouTube, Facebook, and WhatsApp) belonging to five categories (i.e., video, music, social media, communication, and game); each category contains five application-specific activities. Experiment results show that AppListener achieves over 99% accuracy in differentiating four different mobile devices, over 98% accuracy in classifying 40 different apps, and 86.7% accuracy in recognizing five sets of application-specific activities. Moreover, a comprehensive study is conducted to show AppListener is robust to a number of impact factors, such as distance, environment, and non-target connected devices. Practices of integrating AppListener into commercial IoT devices also demonstrate that it is easy to deploy. Finally, countermeasures are presented as the first step to defend against this novel attack.
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