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Towards a Standard Feature Set for Network Intrusion Detection System Datasets


Network Intrusion Detection Systems (NIDSs) are important tools for the protection of computer networks against increasingly frequent and sophisticated cyber attacks. Recently, a lot of research effort has been dedicated to the development of Machine Learning (ML) based NIDSs. As in any ML-based application, the availability of high-quality datasets is critical for the training and evaluation of ML-based NIDS. One of the key problems with the currently available NIDS datasets is the lack of a standard feature set. The use of a unique and proprietary set of features for each of the publicly available datasets makes it virtually impossible to compare the performance of ML-based traffic classifiers on different datasets, and hence to evaluate the ability of these systems to generalise across different network scenarios. To address that limitation, this paper proposes and evaluates standard NIDS feature sets based on the NetFlow network meta-data collection protocol and system. We evaluate and compare two NetFlow-based feature set variants, a version with 12 features, and another one with 43 features. For our evaluation, we converted four widely used NIDS datasets (UNSW-NB15, BoT-IoT, ToN-IoT, CSE-CIC-IDS2018) into new variants with our proposed NetFlow based feature sets. Based on an Extra Tree classifier, we compared the classification performance of the NetFlow-based feature sets with the proprietary feature sets provided with the original datasets. While the smaller feature set cannot match the classification performance of the proprietary feature sets, the larger set with 43 NetFlow features, surprisingly achieves a consistently higher classification performance compared to the original feature set, which was tailored to each of the considered NIDS datasets. The proposed NetFlow-based NIDS feature set, together with four benchmark datasets, made available to the research community, allow a fair comparison of ML-based network traffic classifiers across different NIDS datasets. We believe that having a standard feature set is critical for allowing a more rigorous and thorough evaluation of ML-based NIDSs and that it can help bridge the gap between academic research and the practical deployment of such systems.

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Correspondence to Mohanad Sarhan.

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Sarhan, M., Layeghy, S. & Portmann, M. Towards a Standard Feature Set for Network Intrusion Detection System Datasets. Mobile Netw Appl (2021).

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  • Machine learning
  • NetFlow
  • Network intrusion detection system