Lens on the Endpoint: Hunting for Malicious Software through Endpoint Data Analysis

  • Ahmet Buyukkayhan, Alina Oprea, Zhou Li, William Robertson
  • Proceedings of the International Symposium on Research in Attacks, Intrusions, and Defenses (RAID)
  • PDF

Organizations are facing an increasing number of criminal threats ranging from opportunistic malware to more advanced targeted attacks. While various security technologies are available to protect organizations’ perimeters, still many breaches lead to undesired consequences such as loss of proprietary information, financial burden, and reputation defacing. Recently, endpoint monitoring agents that inspect system-level activities on user machines started to gain traction and be deployed in the industry as an additional defense layer. Their application, though, in most cases is only for forensic investigation to determine the root cause of an incident.

In this paper, we demonstrate how endpoint monitoring can be proactively used for detecting and prioritizing suspicious software modules overlooked by other defenses. Compared to other environments in which host-based detection proved successful, our setting of a large enterprise introduces unique challenges, including the heterogeneous environment (users installing software of their choice), limited ground truth (small number of malicious software available for training), and coarse-grained data collection (strict requirements are imposed on agents’ performance overhead). Through applications of clustering and outlier detection algorithms, we develop techniques to identify modules with known malicious behavior, as well as modules impersonating popular benign applications. We leverage a large number of static, behavioral and contextual features in our algorithms, and new feature weighting methods that are resilient against missing attributes. The large majority of our findings are confirmed as malicious by anti-virus tools, and manual investigation in collaboration with security experts.