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On our behalf, UCSD Network Operations used the nmap tool [12] to scan IP address blocks owned by UCSD to determine the host type, operating system, and network services running on the host. Nmap uses various scanning techniques to classify devices connected to the network. To determine operating systems, nmap interacts with the TCP/IP stack on the host using various packet sequences or packet contents that produce known behaviors associated with specific operating system TCP/IP implementations. To determine the network services running on hosts, nmap scans the host port space to identify all open TCP and UDP ports on the host. We anonymized host IP addresses prior to processing.

Due to administrative constraints collecting data, we obtained the operating system and port data at different times. We had a port trace collected between December 19-22, 2003, and an operating system trace collected between December 29, 2003 and January 7, 2004. The port trace contained 11,963 devices and the operating system trace contained 6,395 devices.

Because we are interested in host data, we first discarded entries for specialized devices such as printers, routers, and switches. We then merged these traces to produce a combined trace of hosts that contained both operating system data and open port data for the same set of hosts. When fingerprinting operating systems, nmap determines both a class (e.g., Windows) as well as a version (e.g., Windows XP). For added consistency, we discarded host information for those entries that did not have consistent OS class and version info. The result was a data set with operating system and port data for 2,963 general-purpose hosts.

Our data set was constructed using assumptions that introduced biases. First, worms exploit vulnerabilities that are present in network services. We make the assumption that two hosts that have the same open port are running the same network service and thus have the same vulnerability. In fact, two hosts may use a given port to run different services, or even different versions (with different vulnerabilities) of the same service. Second, ignoring hosts that nmap could not consistently fingerprint could bias the host traces that were used. Third, DHCP-assigned host addresses are reused. Given the time elapsed between the time operating system information was collected and port information was collected, an address in the operating system trace may refer to a different host in the port trace. Further, a host may appear multiple times with different addresses either in the port trace or in the operating system trace. Consequently, we may have combined information from different hosts to represent one host or counted the same host multiple times.

The first assumption can make two hosts appear to share vulnerabilities when in fact they do not, and the second assumption can consistently discard configurations that otherwise contribute to a less skewed distribution of configurations. The third assumption may make the distribution of configurations seem less skewed, but operating system and port counts either remain the same (if hosts do not appear multiple times in the traces) or increase due to repeated configurations. The net effect of our assumptions is to make operating system and port distributions appear to be less diverse than it really is, although it may have the opposite effect on the distribution of configurations.

Another bias arises from the environment we surveyed. A university environment is not necessarily representative of the Internet, or specific subsets of it. We suspect that such an environment is more diverse in terms of software use than other environments, such as the hosts in a corporate environment or in a governmental agency. On the other hand, there are perhaps thousands of universities with a large setting connected to the Internet around the globe, and so the conclusions we draw from our data are undoubtedly not singular.

next up previous
Next: Attributes Up: Host diversity Previous: Host diversity
Flavio Junqueira 2005-02-17