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Detecting zero-day attacks using context-aware anomaly detection at the application-layer

: Duessel, Patrick; Gehl, Christian; Flegel, Ulrich; Dietrich, Sven; Meier, Michael


International journal of information security 16 (2017), Nr.5, S.475-490
ISSN: 1615-5262
ISSN: 1615-5270
Fraunhofer FKIE ()

Anomaly detection allows for the identification of unknown and novel attacks in network traffic. However, current approaches for anomaly detection of network packet payloads are limited to the analysis of plain byte sequences. Experiments have shown that application-layer attacks become difficult to detect in the presence of attack obfuscation using payload customization. The ability to incorporate syntactic context into anomaly detection provides valuable information and increases detection accuracy. In this contribution, we address the issue of incorporating protocol context into payload-based anomaly detection. We present a new data representation, called cn-grams, that allows to integrate syntactic and sequential features of payloads in an unified feature space and provides the basis for context-aware detection of network intrusions. We conduct experiments on both text-based and binary application-layer protocols which demonstrate superior accuracy on the detection of various types of attacks over regular anomaly detection methods. Furthermore, we show how cn-grams can be used to interpret detected anomalies and thus, provide explainable decisions in practice.