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4th International Annual Workshop on Digital Forensics & Incident Analysis (WDFIA 2009)
Title: Real-world Detection of Polymorphic Attacks
Author(s): Michalis Polychronakis, Kostas Anagnostakis, Evangelos Markatos
Keywords: Polymorphism, intrusion detection, code emulation
Abstract: As state-of-the-art attack detection technology becomes more prevalent, attackers have started
to employ evasion techniques such as code obfuscation and polymorphism to defeat existing
defenses. We have recently proposed network-level emulation, a heuristic detection method
that scans network traffic to detect polymorphic attacks. Our approach uses a CPU emulator to
dynamically analyze every potential instruction sequence in the inspected traffic, aiming to
identify the execution behavior of certain malicious code classes, such as self-decrypting
polymorphic shellcode. In this paper, we present results and experiences from deployments of
network-level emulation in production networks. After more than a year of continuous
operation, our prototype implementation has captured more than a million attacks against real
systems, while so far has not resulted to any false positives. The observed attacks employ a
highly diverse set of exploits, often against less widely used vulnerable services, and in some
cases, sophisticated obfuscation schemes.
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