Mu Zhang works at University of Utah.


APTrace: A Responsive System for Agile Enterprise Level Causality Analysis

While backtracking analysis has been successful in assisting the investigation of complex security attacks, it faces a critical dependency explosion problem. To address this problem, security analysts currently need to tune backtracking analysis manually with different case-specific heuristics. However, existing systems fail to fulfill two important system requirements to achieve effective backtracking analysis. First, there need flexible abstractions to express various types of heuristics. Second, the system needs to be responsive in providing updates so that the progress of backtracking analysis can be frequently inspected, which typically involves multiple rounds of manual tuning. In this paper, we propose a novel system, APTrace, to meet both of the above requirements. As we demonstrate in the evaluation, security analysts can effectively express heuristics to reduce more than 99.5% of irrelevant events in the backtracking analysis of real-world attack cases. To improve the responsiveness of backtracking analysis, we present a novel execution-window partitioning algorithm that significantly reduces the waiting time between two consecutive updates (especially, 57 times reduction for the top 1% waiting time).

NodeMerge: Template Based Efficient Data Reduction For Big-Data Causality Analysis

Today’s enterprises are exposed to sophisticated attacks, such as Advanced Persistent Threats~(APT) attacks, which usually consist of stealthy multiple steps. To counter these attacks, enterprises often rely on causality analysis on the system activity data collected from a ubiquitous system monitoring to discover the initial penetration point, and from there identify previously unknown attack steps. However, one major challenge for causality analysis is that the ubiquitous system monitoring generates a colossal amount of data and hosting such a huge amount of data is prohibitively expensive. Thus, there is a strong demand for techniques that reduce the storage of data for causality analysis and yet preserve the quality of the causality analysis. To address this problem, in this paper, we propose NodeMerge, a template based data reduction system for online system event storage. Specifically, our approach can directly work on the stream of system dependency data and achieve data reduction on the read-only file events based on their access patterns. It can either reduce the storage cost or improve the performance of causality analysis under the same budget. Only with a reasonable amount of resource for online data reduction, it nearly completely preserves the accuracy for causality analysis. The reduced form of data can be used directly with little overhead. To evaluate our approach, we conducted a set of comprehensive evaluations, which show that for different categories of workloads, our system can reduce the storage capacity of raw system dependency data by as high as 75.7 times, and the storage capacity of the state-of-the-art approach by as high as 32.6 times. Furthermore, the results also demonstrate that our approach keeps all the causality analysis information and has a reasonably small overhead in memory and hard disk.

Towards a Timely Causality Analysis for Enterprise Security

The increasingly sophisticated Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attacks have become a serious challenge for enterprise IT security. Attack causality analysis, which tracks multi-hop causal relationships between files and processes to diagnose attack provenances and consequences, is the first step towards understanding APT attacks and taking appropriate responses. Since attack causality analysis is a time-critical mission, it is essential to design causality tracking systems that extract useful attack information in a timely manner. However, prior work is limited in serving this need. Existing approaches have largely focused on pruning causal dependencies totally irrelevant to the attack, but fail to differentiate and prioritize abnormal events from numerous relevant, yet benign and complicated system operations, resulting in long investigation time and slow responses.