Detection and Threat Prioritization of Pivoting Attacks in Large Networks

Apruzzese, G., Pierazzi, F., Colajanni, M., & Marchetti, M., IEEE Transactions on Emerging Topics in Computing, 2017 Journal
Oneliner: How to detect lateral movement (through pivoting) using Network Flows.

Abstract. Several advanced cyber attacks adopt the technique of pivoting through which attackers create a command propagation tunnel through two or more hosts in order to reach their final target. Identifying such malicious activities is one of the most tough research problems because of several challenges: command propagation is a rare event that cannot be detected through signatures, the huge amount of internal communications facilitates attackers evasion, timely pivoting discovery is computationally demanding. This paper describes the first pivoting detection algorithm that is based on network flows analyses, does not rely on any a-priori assumption on protocols and hosts, and leverages an original problem formalization in terms of temporal graph analytics. We also introduce a prioritization algorithm that ranks the detected paths on the basis of a threat score thus letting security analysts investigate just the most suspicious pivoting tunnels. Feasibility and effectiveness of our proposal are assessed through a broad set of experiments that demonstrate its higher accuracy and performance against related algorithms.

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