Quickest Detection of Advanced Persistent Threats: A Semi-Markov Game Approach
Abstract – Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) are stealthy, sophisticated, long-term, multi-stage attacks that threaten the security of sensitive information. Dynamic Information Flow Tracking (DIFT) has been proposed as a promising mechanism to detect and prevent various cyber attacks in computer systems. DIFT tracks suspicious information flows in the system and generates security analysis when anomalous behavior is detected. The number of information flows in a system is typically large and the amount of resources required for analyzing different flows at different system locations varies. Hence, efficient use of resources is essential to maintain an acceptable system performance when using DIFT. On the other hand, the quickest detection of APTs is crucial as APTs are persistent and the damage caused to the system is more when the attacker spends more time in the system. We address the problem of detecting APTs and model the trade-off between resource efficient and quickest detection of APTs. We propose a game model that captures the interaction of APT and a DIFT-based defender as a two-player, multi-stage, zero-sum, Stackelberg semi-Markov game. Our game considers the performance parameters such as false-negatives generated by DIFT and the time required for executing various operations in the system. We propose a two-time scale Q-learning algorithm that converges to a Stackelberg equilibrium under infinite horizon, limiting average payoff criteria. We validate our model and algorithm on a real-word attack dataset obtained using Refinable Attack INvestigation (RAIN) framework.