, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 197-210
Date: 04 Jan 2008

On the adaptive real-time detection of fast-propagating network worms

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Abstract

We present two light-weight worm detection algorithms that offer significant advantages over fixed-threshold methods. The first algorithm, rate-based sequential hypothesis testing (RBS), aims at the large class of worms that attempts to quickly propagate, thus exhibiting abnormal levels of the rate at which hosts initiate connections to new destinations. The foundation of RBS derives from the theory of sequential hypothesis testing, the use of which for detecting randomly scanning hosts was first introduced by our previous work developing TRW (Jung et al. in Proceedings of the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, 9–12 May 2004). The sequential hypothesis testing methodology enables us to engineer detectors to meet specific targets for false-positive and false-negative rates, rather than triggering when fixed thresholds are crossed. In this sense, the detectors that we introduce are truly adaptive. We then introduce RBS+TRW, an algorithm that combines fan-out rate (RBS) and probability of failure (TRW) of connections to new destinations. RBS+TRW provides a unified framework that at one end acts as pure RBS and at the other end as pure TRW. Selecting an operating point that includes both mechanisms extends RBS’s power in detecting worms that scan randomly selected IP addresses. Using four traces from three qualitatively different sites, we evaluate RBS and RBS+TRW in terms of false positives, false negatives, and detection speed, finding that RBS+TRW provides good detection of actual Code Red worm outbreaks that we caught in our trace as well as internal Web crawlers that we use as proxies for targeting worms. In doing so, RBS+TRW generates fewer than one false alarm per hour for wide range of parameter choices.