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Covert channels in multiplayer first person shooter online games

Zander, S., Armitage, G. and Branch, P. (2008) Covert channels in multiplayer first person shooter online games. In: 33rd IEEE Conference on Local Computer Networks (LCN) 2008, 14 - 17 October 2008, Montreal, Canada

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Covert channels aim to hide the existence of communication between two or more parties. Such channels typically utilise pre-existing (overt) data transmissions to carry hidden messages. Internet-based covert channels often encode new information into unused (or loosely specified) IP packet header fields, or the time intervals between IP packet arrivals. We propose a novel covert channel embedded within the traffic of multiplayer, first person shooter online games. We encode covert bits as slight, yet continuous, variations of a player’s character’s movements. Movement information is propagated to all clients attached to a given game server, yet the channel remains covert so long as the variations are visually imperceptible to the human players. A modified version of Quake III Arena is used to demonstrate our concept. We empirically analyse the covert channel’s bit rate, and compare the statistical characteristics of unmodified game traffic with those of game traffic carrying covert information.

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