Let Me Out! Evaluating the Effectiveness of Quarantining Compromised Users in Walled Gardens


Orçun Çetin, Lisette Altena, Carlos Gañán, and Michel van Eeten, Delft University of Technology


In the fight to clean up malware-infected machines, notifications from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to their customers play a crucial role. Since stand-alone notifications are routinely ignored, some ISPs have invested in a potentially more effective mechanism: quarantining customers in so-called walled gardens. We present the first empirical study on user behavior and remediation effectiveness of quarantining infected machines in broadband networks. We analyzed 1,736 quarantining actions involving 1,208 retail customers of a medium-sized ISP in the period of April-October 2017. The first two times they are quarantined, users can easily release themselves from the walled garden and around two-thirds of them use this option. Notwithstanding this easy way out, we find that 71% of these users have actually cleaned up the infection during their first quarantine period and, of the recidivists, 48% are cleaned after their second quarantining. Users who do not self-release either contact customer support (30%) or are released automatically after 30 days (3%). They have even higher cleanup rates. Reinfection rates are quite low and most users get quarantined only once. Users that remain infected spend less time in the walled garden during subsequent quarantining events, without a major drop in cleanup rates. This suggests there are positive learning effects, rather than mere habituation to being notified and self-releasing from the walled garden. In the communications with abuse and support staff, a fraction of quarantined users ask for additional help, request a paid technician, voice frustration about being cut off, or threaten to cancel their subscriptions. All in all, walled gardens seem to be a relatively effective and usable mechanism to improve the security of end users. We reflect on our main findings in terms of how to advance this industry best practice for botnet mitigation by ISPs.

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@inproceedings {219433,
author = {Or{\c c}un {\c C}etin and Carlos Ga{\~n}{\'a}n and Lisette Altena and Samaneh Tajalizadehkhoob and Michel van Eeten},
title = {Let Me Out! Evaluating the Effectiveness of Quarantining Compromised Users in Walled Gardens},
booktitle = {Fourteenth Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS 2018)},
year = {2018},
isbn = {978-1-939133-10-6},
address = {Baltimore, MD},
pages = {251--263},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/soups2018/presentation/cetin},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug