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Abstract - Security Symposium - 2000

Detecting Stepping Stones

Yin Zhang, Cornell University; Vern Paxson, AT&T Center for Internet Research at ICSI


One widely-used technique by which network attackers attain anonymity and complicate their apprehension is by employing stepping stones: they launch attacks not from their own computer but from intermediary hosts that they previously compromised. We develop an efficient algorithm for detecting stepping stones by monitoring a site's Internet access link. The algorithm is based on the distinctive characteristics (packet size, timing) of interactive traffic, and not on connection contents, and hence can be used to find stepping stones even when the traffic is encrypted. We evaluate the algorithm on large Internet access traces and find that it performs quite well. However, the success of the algorithm is tempered by the discovery that large sites have many users who routinely traverse stepping stones for a variety of legitimate reasons. Hence, stepping-stone detection also requires a significant policy component for separating allowable stepping-stone pairs from surreptitious access.
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Last changed: 29 Jan. 2002 ml
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