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Side-Channel Security: Developing a Side-Channel Mindset

Graz University of Technology via edX


Side channels have become increasingly important over the past two decades in our digital world. With attacks like Meltdown and Spectre, which internally use side channels, they have gained world-wide relevance, as most computers on the planet are affected, and also the corresponding publicity. But why are side channels relevant to me? Because they are relevant to everyone!

This course is not just a list of side-channel effects and how to exploit them. We provide you with the experience of learning about side channels, in a group of students, living in a shared appartment. Together with them you will figure out that what side channels are, why they are relevant for security, how they can inadvertantly influence us or leak our own most personal secrets to others.

In this first season, we will cover the basics, without requiring any technical skills. The security or side-channel mindset we teach is still highly valuable, as it allows to assess risks both in the real world and in technical contexts. In a set of small exercises, you will demonstrate that you understood the basics, and acquired the way of thinking needed to find and exploit side channels.

A set of small exercises for this course will be solved online with no need to download anything.


You will learn together with the protagonists of our show:

- Episode 1: Side Channels are Everywhere

In this episode, the flat mates learn basic definitions and look out for side channels in the real world. Interestingly, we have all been using them already.

- Episode 2: The Door

Daniel and Jonas find a secret door in a dark university cellar. They try various side channels to open the door but in the end find a shocking revelation. You will get to know several side channel techniques.

- Episode 3: The Criminal Mind

Daniel challenges the other flat mates to figure out how to win the card game "The Mind". The flat mates try various side channels to stealthily coordinate and transmit information. You will learn how to find covert channels and covert coordination techniques in the real-world.

- Episode 4: Clever Hans

We get a brief over view of the history of side channels and the flat mates try to win the card game "Hanabi" in which you cannot see your own cards. They try to use side channels to still obtain information about their own cards. You will improve your skills in covertly coordinating and in using side channels to infer what another person intended.

- Episode 5: Poker Face

The flat mates are worried about how to defend against all these attacks. In a game of "Coup" they try side-channel mitigation strategies and hide their own secrets from the other players. You will learn what the basic idea of side-channel mitigation is about.

Taught by

Daniel Gruss


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