A Stateful Intrusion Detection System for World-Wide Web Servers

  • Giovanni Vigna, William Robertson, Vishal Kher, Richard Kemmerer
  • Proceedings of the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC)
  • PDF

Web servers are ubiquitous, remotely accessible, and often misconfigured. In addition, custom web-based applications may introduce vulnerabilities that are overlooked even by the most security-conscious server administrators. Consequently, web servers are a popular target for hackers. To mitigate the security exposure associated with web servers, intrusion detection systems are deployed to analyze and screen incoming requests. The goal is to perform early detection of malicious activity and possibly prevent more serious damage to the protected site. Even though intrusion detection is critical for the security of web servers, the intrusion detection systems available today only perform very simple analyses and are often vulnerable to simple evasion techniques. In addition, most systems do not provide sophisticated attack languages that allow a system administrator to specify custom, complex attack scenarios to be detected.

This paper presents WebSTAT, an intrusion detection system that analyzes web requests looking for evidence of malicious behavior. The system is novel in several ways. First of all, it provides a sophisticated language to describe multistep attacks in terms of states and transitions. In addition, the modular nature of the system supports the integrated analysis of network traffic sent to the server host, operating system-level audit data produced by the server host, and the access logs produced by the web server. By correlating different streams of events, it is possible to achieve more effective detection of web-based attacks.