Date: 26 Sep 2002

Inter-Packet Delay Based Correlation for Tracing Encrypted Connections through Stepping Stones

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Abstract

Network based intrusions have become a serious threat to the users of the Internet. Intruders who wish to attack computers attached to the Internet frequently conceal their identity by staging their attacks through intermediate “stepping stones”. This makes tracing the source of the attack substantially more difficult, particularly if the attack traffic is encrypted. In this paper, we address the problem of tracing encrypted connections through stepping stones. The incoming and outgoing connections through a stepping stone must be correlated to accomplish this. We propose a novel correlation scheme based on inter-packet timing characteristics of both encrypted and unencrypted connections. We show that (after some filtering) inter-packet delays (IPDs) of both encrypted and unencrypted, interactive connections are preserved across many router hops and stepping stones. The effectiveness of this method for correlation purposes also requires that timing characteristics be distinctive enough to identify connections. We have found that normal interactive connections such as telnet, SSH and rlogin are almost always distinctive enough to provide correct correlation across stepping stones. The number of packets needed to correctly correlate two connections is also an important metric, and is shown to be quite modest for this method.