We know what you're doing! Application detection using thermal data

Authors Philipp Miedl , Rehan Ahmed , Lothar Thiele

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Philipp Miedl
  • Computer Engineering and Networks Laboratory, ETH Zurich, Gloriastrasse 35, Zurich, Switzerland
Rehan Ahmed
  • Information Technology University of the Punjab, Arfa Software Technology Park, Ferozpur Road, Lahore, Pakistan
Lothar Thiele
  • Computer Engineering and Networks Laboratory, ETH Zurich, Gloriastrasse 35, Zurich, Switzerland

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Philipp Miedl, Rehan Ahmed, and Lothar Thiele. We know what you're doing! Application detection using thermal data. In LITES, Volume 7, Issue 1 (2021): Special Issue on Embedded System Security. Leibniz Transactions on Embedded Systems, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp. 02:1-02:28, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2021)


Modern mobile and embedded devices have high computing power which allows them to be used for multiple purposes. Therefore, applications with low security restrictions may execute on the same device as applications handling highly sensitive information. In such a setup, a security risk occurs if it is possible that an application uses system characteristics to gather information about another application on the same device.In this work, we present a method to leak sensitive runtime information by just using temperature sensor readings of a mobile device. We employ a Convolutional-Neural-Network, Long Short-Term Memory units and subsequent label sequence processing to identify the sequence of executed applications over time. To test our hypothesis we collect data from two state-of-the-art smartphones and real user usage patterns. We show an extensive evaluation using laboratory data, where we achieve labelling accuracies up to 90% and negligible timing error. Based on our analysis we state that the thermal information can be used to compromise sensitive user data and increase the vulnerability of mobile devices. A study based on data collected outside of the laboratory opens up various future directions for research.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Security and privacy → Mobile platform security
  • Security and privacy → Embedded systems security
  • Security and privacy → Hardware attacks and countermeasures
  • Security and privacy → Virtualization and security
  • Hardware → Temperature monitoring
  • Thermal Monitoring
  • Side Channel
  • Data Leak
  • Sequence Labelling


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