The defense of a computer network requires defenders to both understand when an attack is taking place and understand the larger strategic goals of their attackers. In this paper we explore this topic through the replication of a prior study “Extracting Attack Narratives from Traffic Datasets” by Mireles et al. [Athanasiades, N., et al., Intrusion detection testing and benchmarking methodologies, in First IEEE International Workshop on Information Assurance. 2003, IEEE: Darmstadt, Germany]. In their original research Mireles et al. proposed a framework linking a particular cyber-attack model (the Mandiant Life Cycle Model) and identification of individual attack signatures into a process as to provide a higher-level insight of an attacker in what they termed as attack narratives. In our study we both replicate the original authors work while also moving the research forward by integrating many of the suggestions Mireles et al. provided that would have improved their study. Through our analysis, we confirm the concept that attack narratives can provide additional insight beyond the review of individual cyber-attacks. We also built upon one of their suggested areas by exploring their framework through the lens of Lockheed Martin Cyber Kill Chain. While we found the concept to be novel and potentially useful, we found challenges replicating the clarity Mireles et al. described. In our research we identify the need for additional research into describing additional components of an attack narrative including the nonlinear nature of cyber-attacks and issues of identity and attribution.
Funding source: U. S. Department of Homeland Security
Funding source: Science and Technology Directorate
Funding statement: Support for the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security NCCDC_logs-20150424 is provided by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate, IMPACT program.
About the authors
Aaron Weathersby is a doctoral student at Marymount University and D. Sc. Cybersecurity candidate. He previously obtained a master’s in Industrial Tech from California State University Los Angeles and a bachelor’s in Computer Science from the University of Southern California. He currently works as the Chief Information Officer for Charles R. Drew University. He has obtained numerous cyber security certifications including Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP), Certified Security System Professional (CISSP), Certified Cisco Network Professional (CCNP), Security +, Security Linux Assembly Expert 32 Bit (SLAE – 32) and has identified several CVEs. Aaron’s dissertation topic is on Discerning the Relative Threat of Network Based Cyber-attacks, A Study of Motivation, Attribution and Anonymity of Hackers. His research interests include network security, attribution, and cyber threat intelligence.
Mark Washington is a doctoral student at Marymount University and D. Sc. Cybersecurity candidate. As an adjunct instructor for Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, Advanced Academic Programs for the Master of Science in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Program, he teaches GIS for Infrastructure Management. Mark has a B. B. A. from the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business, and an M. S. from Rutgers University, School of Communication and Information. He previously instructed students as an adjunct faculty member at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey, teaching core courses in the Information Technology Department for more than 6 years.Mark is currently the Senior Manager of Information Systems for Johns Hopkins University Facilities and Real Estate Organization and is the architect of the Johns Hopkins Geographic Information System for infrastructure and utility management, supporting all university constituents. He is responsible for the management and maintenance of enterprise software applications and information technology systems, while leading staff to gather, store and render all geographic and related data for major stakeholders at Johns Hopkins University & Medicine. Ove the past two decades, Mark has led enterprise information technology initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University and Princeton University.
We would like to thank the Cyber Impact project and the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security for providing access to this dataset. We would also like to formally thank the original authors Mireles et al. for conducting their novel study which ultimately provided us the opportunity to confirm, critique and build on their work.
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