Document Type

Conference Paper


This item is available under a Creative Commons License for non-commercial use only


Computer Sciences, Information Science

Publication Details

Sheridan, S., Keane, A. In Proceedings of the 14th European Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security (ECCWS), University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK, July 2nd 2015.


Information theft or data exfiltration, whether personal or corporate, is now a lucrative mainstay of cybercrime activity. Recent security reports have suggested that while information, such as credit card data is still a prime target, other data such as corporate secrets, employee files and intellectual property are increasingly sought after on the black market. Malicious actors that are intent on exfiltrating valuable data, usually employ some form of Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) in order to exfiltrate large amounts of data over a long period of time with a high degree of covertness. Botnets are prime examples of APTs that are usually established on targeted systems through malware or exploit kits that leverage system vulnerabilities. Once established, Botnets rely on covert command and control (C&C) communications with a central server, this allows a malicious actor to keep track of compromised systems and to send out instructions for compromised systems to do their biding. Covert channels provide an ideal mechanism for data exfiltration and the exchange of command and control messages that are essential to a Botnets effectiveness. Our work focuses on one particular form of covert channel that enables communication of hidden messages over normal Domain Name Server (DNS) network traffic. Covert channels based on DNS traffic are of particular interest, as DNS requests are an essential part of most Internet traffic and as a result are rarely filtered or blocked by firewalls. As part of our work we have created a test bed system that uses a covert DNS channel to exfiltrate data from a compromised host. Using this system we have carried out network traffic analysis that uses baseline comparisons as a means to fingerprint covert DNS activity. Even though detection of covert DNS activity is relatively straightforward, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that most organisations do not filter or pay enough attention to DNS traffic and are therefore susceptible to data exfiltration attacks once a host on their network has been compromised. Our work shows that freely available covert DNS tools have particular traffic signatures that can be detected in order to mitigate data exfiltration and C&C traffic.