From Patching Delays to Infection Symptoms: Using Risk Profiles for an Early Discovery of Vulnerabilities Exploited in the Wild


Chaowei Xiao and Armin Sarabi, University of Michigan; Yang Liu, Harvard University / UC Santa Cruz; Bo Li, UIUC; Mingyan Liu, University of Michigan; Tudor Dumitras, University of Maryland, College Park


At any given time there exist a large number of software vulnerabilities in our computing systems, but only a fraction of them are ultimately exploited in the wild. Advanced knowledge of which vulnerabilities are being or likely to be exploited would allow system administrators to prioritize patch deployments, enterprises to assess their security risk more precisely, and security companies to develop intrusion protection for those vulnerabilities. In this paper, we present a novel method based on the notion of community detection for early discovery of vulnerability exploits. Specifically, on one hand, we use symptomatic botnet data (in the form of a set of spam blacklists) to discover a community structure which reveals how similar Internet entities behave in terms of their malicious activities. On the other hand, we analyze the risk behavior of end-hosts through a set of patch deployment measurements that allow us to assess their risk to different vulnerabilities. The latter is then compared to the former to quantify whether the underlying risks are consistent with the observed global symptomatic community structure, which then allows us to statistically determine whether a given vulnerability is being actively exploited in the wild. Our results show that by observing up to 10 days' worth of data, we can successfully detect vulnerability exploitation with a true positive rate of 90% and a false positive rate of 10%. Our detection is shown to be much earlier than the standard discovery time records for most vulnerabilities. Experiments also demonstrate that our community based detection algorithm is robust against strategic adversaries.

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@inproceedings {217571,
author = {Chaowei Xiao and Armin Sarabi and Yang Liu and Bo Li and Mingyan Liu and Tudor Dumitras},
title = {From Patching Delays to Infection Symptoms: Using Risk Profiles for an Early Discovery of Vulnerabilities Exploited in the Wild},
booktitle = {27th {USENIX} Security Symposium ({USENIX} Security 18)},
year = {2018},
isbn = {978-1-931971-46-1},
address = {Baltimore, MD},
pages = {903--918},
url = {},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},