DISTDET: A Cost-Effective Distributed Cyber Threat Detection System


Feng Dong, School of Cyber Science and Engineering, Huazhong University of Science and Technology / Sangfor Technologies Inc.; Liu Wang and Xu Nie, Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications; Fei Shao, Case Western Reserve University; Haoyu Wang, School of Cyber Science and Engineering, Huazhong University of Science and Technology; Ding Li, Key Laboratory of High-Confidence Software Technologies (MOE), School of Computer Science, Peking University; Xiapu Luo, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University; Xusheng Xiao, Arizona State University


Building provenance graph that considers causal relationships among software behaviors can better provide contextual information of cyber attacks, especially for advanced attacks such as Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attacks. Despite its promises in assisting attack investigation, existing approaches that use provenance graphs to perform attack detection suffer from two fundamental limitations. First, existing approaches adopt a centralized detection architecture that sends all system auditing logs to the server for processing, incurring intolerable costs of data transmission, data storage, and computation. Second, they adopt either rule-based techniques that cannot detect unknown threats, or anomaly-detection techniques that produce numerous false alarms, failing to achieve a balance of precision and recall in APT detection. To address these fundamental challenges, we propose DISTDET, a distributed detection system that detects APT attacks by (1) performing light weight detection based on the host model built in the client side, (2) filtering false alarms based on the semantics of the alarm proprieties, and (3) deriving global models to complement the local bias of the host models. Our experiments on a large-scale industrial environment (1,130 hosts, 14 days, ∼1.6 billion events) and the DARPA TC dataset show that DISTDET is as effective as sate-of-the-art techniques in detecting attacks, while dramatically reducing network bandwidth from 11.28Mb/s to 17.08Kb/S (676.5× reduction), memory usages from 364MB to 5.523MB (66× reduction), and storage from 1.47GB to 130.34MB (11.6× reduction). By the time of this writing, DISTDET has been deployed to 50+ industry customers with 22,000+ hosts for more than 6 months, and identified over 900 real-world attacks.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {285353,
author = {Feng Dong and Liu Wang and Xu Nie and Fei Shao and Haoyu Wang and Ding Li and Xiapu Luo and Xusheng Xiao},
title = {{DISTDET}: A {Cost-Effective} Distributed Cyber Threat Detection System},
booktitle = {32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-37-3},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
pages = {6575--6592},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity23/presentation/dong-feng},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug