Award Winner 2017

Evaluation of Intrusion Detection Systems in Virtualized Environments

by Aleksandar Milenkoski

Press Release

Virtualization has been receiving increasing interest as a way to reduce costs through server consolidation and to enhance the flexibility of physical infrastructures. Although virtualization provides many benefits, it introduces new security challenges; that is, the introduction of a hypervisor introduces threats since hypervisors expose new attack surfaces. Intrusion detection is a common cyber security mechanism whose task is to detect malicious activities in host and/or network environments.The wide adoption of virtualization has resulted in the increasingly common practice of deploying conventional intrusion detection systems (IDSs), for example, hardware IDS appliances or common software-based IDSs, in designated VMs as virtual network functions (VNFs). In addition, the research and industrial communities have developed IDSs specifically designed to operate in virtualized environments (i.e., hypervisor-based IDSs), with components both inside the hypervisor and in a designated VM.

To minimize the risk of security breaches, methods and techniques for evaluating IDSs in an accurate manner are essential. However, methods and techniques for realistic and accurate evaluation of the attack detection accuracy of IDSs in virtualized environments are lacking. This thesis presents contributions that span the standard components of any system evaluation scenario: workloads, metrics, and measurement methodologies:

  • A comprehensive systematization of the common practices and the state-of-the-art on IDS evaluation. Given the significant amount of existing practical and theoretical work related to IDS evaluation, the presented systematization is beneficial for identifying and contrasting advantages and disadvantages of different IDS evaluation methods and practices, while also helping to identify specific requirements and best practices for evaluating current and future IDSs.
  • An in-depth analysis of common vulnerabilities of modern hypervisors as well as a set of attack models capturing the activities of attackers triggering these vulnerabilities.
  • A novel approach for evaluating IDSs enabling the generation of workloads that contain attacks targeting hypervisors. We propose an approach for evaluating IDSs using attack injection (i.e., controlled execution of attacks during regular operation of the environment where an IDS under test is deployed).
  • A novel metric and measurement methodology for quantifying the attack detection accuracy of IDSs in virtualized environments that feature elastic resource provisioning. We demonstrate how the elasticity of resource allocations in such environments may impact the IDS attack detection accuracy and show that using existing metrics in such environments may lead to practically challenging and inaccurate measurements.

In summary, this thesis presents the first systematization of the state-of-the-art on IDS evaluation, considering workloads, metrics and measurement methodologies as integral parts of every IDS evaluation approach. In addition, we are the first to examine the attack surface of hypervisors in detail and to propose an approach using attack injection for evaluating IDSs in virtualized environments. Finally, this thesis presents the first metric and measurement methodology for quantifying the attack detection accuracy of IDSs in virtualized environments that feature elastic resource provisioning.

For IDSs in virtualized environments featuring elastic resource provisioning, our approach for injecting hypercall attacks can be applied in combination with the attack detection accuracy metric and measurement methodology we propose. Our approach for injecting attacks, and our metric and measurement methodology, can also be applied independently beyond the scenarios considered in this thesis. The wide spectrum of security mechanisms in virtualized environments whose evaluation can directly benefit from the contributions of this thesis (e.g., hypervisor-based IDSs, IDSs deployed as VNFs, and access control mechanisms) reflects the practical implication of the thesis.

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