An Evaluation of DGA Classifiers

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Conference Proceeding


Domain Generation Algorithms (DGAs) are a popular technique used by contemporary malware for command-and-control (C&C) purposes. Such malware utilizes DGAs to create a set of domain names that, when resolved, provide information necessary to establish a link to a C&C server. Automated discovery of such domain names in real-time DNS traffic is critical for network security as it allows to detect infection, and, in some cases, take countermeasures to disrupt the communication and identify infected machines. Detection of the specific DGA malware family provides the administrator valuable information about the kind of infection and steps that need to be taken. In this paper we compare and evaluate machine learning methods that classify domain names as benign or DGA, and label the latter according to their malware family. Unlike previous work, we select data for test and training sets according to observation time and known seeds. This allows us to assess the robustness of the trained classifiers for detecting domains generated by the same families at a different time or when seeds change. Our study includes tree ensemble models based on human-engineered features and deep neural networks that learn features automatically from domain names. We find that all state-of-the-art classifiers are significantly better at catching domain names from malware families with a time-dependent seed compared to time-invariant DGAs. In addition, when applying the trained classifiers on a day of real traffic, we find that many domain names unjustifiably are flagged as malicious, thereby revealing the shortcomings of relying on a standard whitelist for training a production grade DGA detection system.

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2018 IEEE International Conference on Big Data (Big Data)

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