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This paper has presented two practical algorithms (grouping and correlation) that group hosts on an enterprise network into roles according to their observed connection patterns. The first algorithm partitions hosts on the network into groups based on connection data. The second algorithm meaningfully correlates the results obtained by running the first algorithm at different times, taking into account the evolution of connection patterns over time.

To our knowledge, the problem of automatically grouping and classifying hosts based on their behavior on the network has not been addressed before. This paper formulates the problem by presenting an abstract model in addition to the concrete algorithm specifications. The general framework we have developed accommodates other classification algorithms in addition to the ones we have described.

Grouping hosts according to their connection habits exposes the logical structure of the network, and can serve to improve understanding of the network and to simplify a variety of network management tasks. It can also improve the accuracy of automated tools, such as systems for network monitoring and intrusion detection.

Experience with the algorithms on two corporate networks, one with about 100 hosts and one with over 3600 hosts, indicates that they work well. They are easy to tune, and produce results that are meaningful and consistent with the intuition of experienced network administrators. Importantly, our experience on the corporate networks has shown that automated classification algorithms such as these can play an important role in assisting network administrators. The algorithms are also fairly efficient, and their performance remains practical even for networks with several thousand hosts.

Much work remains to be done. We plan to continue improving the performance of the algorithm. The ideal solution should be better than quadratic time complexity, since that could eventually be the limiting factor on very large networks. We will also explore other definitions of host similarity for grouping. For instance, one could consider incorporating services (such as TCP or UDP port information) or protocols into the definition of a connection, so that a web server would not be grouped with a mail server. In addition, we have yet to explore many of the applications of automatically-derived grouping information, which include network management, provisioning, security, and perhaps others.

next up previous
Next: Bibliography Up: Role Classification of Hosts Previous: Related Work
Godfrey Tan 2003-04-01